In the outskirts of Santiago, Gerona, Tarlac, a community is nestled in the middle of an agricultural land. Here, families know each other. After all, they are related by blood.
By early afternoon, many of the relatives gather under a massive mango tree where halo-halo is being sold to beat the April heat. It resembles an opening sequence of a local movie – children at play, the huddle of parents and adults, and the heat stroke-threatening solar burst.
On a crude wooden bench sits Marjary Macadangdang, an 18-year-old college student. It has been two months since the last time she came home, she tells me. Her father Jerry, with the noticeable crevices on his forehead, is happy to see her. If not for the scheduled interview, it would take another month before Marjary gets to reunite with her family.
Like many parents in the provinces, Jerry is proud of what his daughter has achieved. When Marjary graduates from college, she would be the first in the family to do so.
“In her high school days, she joined a quiz bee competition in crop production and placed second,” Jerry announces.
“I was actually the champion,” Marjary corrects her father in jest. The two burst in laughter. The clarification is not something that irritates Jerry. He knows that Marjary means no disrespect. The soft-spoken eldest daughter always says things to her father with a solid sense of love and tenderness.
Trust buttressed their bond when the two became part of the Infomediary Campaign in 2018, PhilRice’s initiative to enhance youth engagement in agriculture.
“Back then, we introduced the high school students to information and communications technology (ICT) tools and platforms so they could help their farmer-parents access information from ICT-based sources,” recollects Dr. Jaime Manalo, project lead.
The PhilRice Text Center (PTC) platform caters to all queries on rice farming from its registered clients.
“The main aim really was to work with the students because we already knew that farmers were having ICT anxiety based on my and other colleagues’ research in 2010,” Manalo elaborates. ICT anxiety is the feeling of discomfort when using an ICT gadget like a mobile phone.
Jerry remembers having been in a meeting with his fellow farmer-parents at Corazon C. Aquino High School in Gerona, one of the project sites of the campaign that operated in more than 200 secondary schools. The teachers taught their students strategies on climate change mitigation and adaptation such as the components under the Palayamanan farming system.
“I never had formal training on rice farming. All the things that I do were passed on by our ancestors,” he discloses. Jerry, as one of the main stakeholders of the project, was introduced to PTC expecting him to adopt the said platform to help him make informed decisions on his farm. That’s not what happened.
“For one, I did not have a cellphone. Even if I had one, I wouldn’t know how to use it or which buttons to press,” the 51-year-old confesses his anxiety. Mobile phones, back in the days when Jerry started farming, were rare.
When asked about his phone number, Jerry usually gives Marjary’s contact details. Until today, he has never owned a mobile phone. He also received a Leaf Color Chart but he forgot how to use it blaming how the training gave too much information and his age couldn’t keep up with all the details they unloaded to him.
“It is good that my daughter was there. At her age, she can absorb and digest all the instructions,” Jerry is thankful.
Marjary, then a Grade 10 student, was taking a crop production subject when she became part of the project.
“I felt sad because the PTC is intended for my father and yet he couldn’t access it,” she regrets. Adept in using gadgets, she registered to PTC using her phone so she could help her father on pest management and what suitable varieties to plant in their area. T
his helped the father-and-daughter tandem improve their farm practices and yield. With the fusion of two generations, it is not surprising that there’s a push-and-pull of ideas when Jerry and Marjary discuss the rigors of rice farming in the household.
“My father wanted to irrigate right away but I told him we needed to follow the instructions in using the observation well,” the obedient daughter recalls.
Among the things she will never forget because of the project is when she and her father attended the Lakbay Palay for students at DA-PhilRice CES. Both were amazed to witness the use of the combine harvester and drone sprayer in the field.
“Being children of farmers like us, we play a big role in terms of helping our parents make full use of the available technologies we have today,” she ponders.
Marjary likened herself to a seed. “When we are planted, we will grow to be the next generation of farmers who will continue what our parents started,” she synthesizes.
Today, she is taking BS Agriculture at Tarlac Agricultural University in Camiling, some 2 hours away from home by public transport. She admits she was inspired by her parents’ hard work in the fields. In fact, what she’s been learning in school such as integrated pest management and other technologies are some of things she already heard about through the Infomediary Campaign.
She has also kept all the knowledge products the project gave her. “It feels like I enrolled in advance classes,” she says in jest.
A different kind of harvest
The first published Infomediary book characterizes Marjary as one of those identified by the project as “Grade A” students. “They have high credibility and convincing power to influence their parents in terms of decision-making,” Manalo qualifies.
Marjary does not suffer from ICT anxiety like her parents. Providentially, the syndrome isn’t inherited. She wants to be there every step of the way as she orients them of the new technologies she learns in school.
“I draw strength from my parents each time I come home. One day, all the sacrifices will be worth it,” she paused and held back her tears.
Certainly, in the future, Marjary will get a happy ending she and her family rightfully deserve.