Among the highly anticipated activities of this centennial anniversary celebration is the Farmers and Fisherfolks' Day wherein the Visayas State University (VSU) will be recognizing outstanding farmers and fisherfolk in Region VIII which will be held this April 27. 


This year’s culmination is extra special as it will also include the “Outstanding GAP Certified Farm” award for the first time. However, a lot of people, even Viscans, are not entirely aware of what GAP is and how it is beneficial to the agriculture sector. 


To elaborate on it, let us take a quick stroll back in time during the onset of the pandemic. Students and faculties of university that were affected by the lockdown were treated to a distribution of free vegetables that were homegrown and cultivated within the campus ground. This harvest was produced following the GAP program which was implemented by the university in Baybay and other parts of Eastern Visayas in 2019. 


VEGETABLE DISTRIBUTION. Visayas State University hands-out free vegetables produced using GAP to stranded students and faculty amidst the lockdown during the pandemic. Courtesy of VSU.


The implementation of the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) program in Baybay, Leyte has also helped vegetable farmers yield crops all year long despite heavy rains, mitigate pest infestation, and avert pesticide poisoning.


On the other hand, a study by the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that the average Filipino family consumes only 60 kilos of vegetables annually, falling short of the recommended 400 grams per day.


One of the reasons driving this problem is consumer perception of market goods, since many harvests of vegetables are found to be heavily sprayed. This is where the GAP program was first introduced to the vegetable growers of Baybay, Leyte.


The GAP program comprises four main components: production, socioeconomic, food safety, and training. These components are integral in making sure that there is a sustainable supply of vegetables that is both efficient and safe for consumption that follows the Food Safety Act of 2013.


The project has since produced 29 certified PhilGAP farms in Region 8, with 24 supported by the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) with 14 farms located in Baybay. It can be noted that VSU currently houses the model GAP farm in all of Eastern Visayas.


MODEL FARM. The first GAP certified farm located in VSU is considered as the model GAP farm in Region 8. Courtesy of Visayas State University.


The project’s main aim is to improve the capacity of selected vegetable supply chains in the region and deliver vegetables that better meet consumer expectations in terms of quality, food safety, nutritional value, and price. It also aims to ensure safety and protection of farmers in cultivating the crops.


Dr. Zenaida Gonzaga, a professor in the Department of Horticulture at VSU and GAP’s project leader, highlights that the project was implemented in response to the prominence of unsafe agricultural practices of farmers in the region. She also mentioned that Baybay’s unpredictable climate made it difficult for farmers to cultivate their crops efficiently. 


In context, Baybay Leyte is classified with a type 4 climate as per the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration or PAGASA. This means that the area experiences rainfall that is evenly distributed all-year round, attributed to its mountainous landscape courtesy of Mount Pangasugan, and the adjacent water bodies like the Camotes Sea. 


Baybay’s daily weather consists of frequent rains even in the summer season and the last quarter of the year. This environmental condition renders vegetable crops susceptible to pest infestations and hampers their optimal growth.


In response, as part of the good agricultural practices promoted by the program – farmers were trained to use protected cropping technology that makes use of bamboo covered with stabilized plastic. This structure allows for year-round production and cultivation of vegetables even amidst heavy rain. 


Gonzaga added that “vegetable yield is much higher” in this kind of cultivation compared to when vegetables are grown in the open field. Farmers are also oriented with proper water management practices, and proper amounts of fertilizer and pesticide suited for the crops.


She also debunked some misconceptions about the GAP program such as when people confuse it with organic agriculture. Gonzaga clarified that GAP still uses pesticides but following the GAP protocol in terms of recommended usage. 


She added that “if a farm is already GAP-certified, this will entice people to buy their produce because it means if it is from a GAP-certified farm, it is safe to eat, and free from contaminants.”


The program also equips vegetable farmers with necessary skills that they can also impart with other farmers.


“We want our farmers to become farmer-teachers. Because we have observed that farmers often consult their co-farmers when they have questions or concerns about the program or vegetable farming,” Gonzaga asserted.


The GAP program has a 5 year tenure and is set to be finished by June of this year, however, the GAP approach will still continue among its growers and is targeted to be expanded to other regions in the country. This expansion includes “embedding PhilGAP” into VSU courses.


The search for “Outstanding GAP Certified Farms” is set to be awarded during the Farmers and Fisherfolks' Day on April 27. The three finalists are DIPS Farm of Diana Discar from Salcedo, Eastern Samar, Basti’s Farm of Albert Rosillo from Kilim, Baybay, Leyte, and Apoy Benit Cacao Agricultural Farm of Osmeña Tajo from Calbayog City, Western Samar. 

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