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TOFARM Search and Award returns after five-year hiatus

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PHOTO: Universal Harvester Incorporated
The prestigious award-giving body, Top Outstanding Farmers (TOFARM) Search and Award of the Philippines, has returned following a five-year hiatus to continue its goal of recognizing top Filipino farmers.
The non-governmental organization (NGO) Universal Harvester Incorporated (UHI), alongside the Department of Agriculture (DA) and Junior Chamber International Philippines (JCIP), formally announced TOFARM's relaunch in a press conference at EDSA Shangri-La Hotel on May 16.
With the theme "Ang Muling Pagsibol," TOFARM 2023 aims to inspire farmers to develop their skills and share agricultural knowledge to ensure the food security of the country, which can lead to TOFARM's expansion in the future.
Moreover, it aims to steadily increase youth participation in agricultural ventures, invigorate investment, and advance scientific methods to attain a sustainable food supply.
Rommel Cunanan
DISCUSSING RATIONALE. Rommel Cunanan (fourth from the left) discussed the several categories honored by TOFARM. (Photo: Rodolfo Dacleson II/Radyo Natin Nationwide)
TOFARM Program Director Rommel Cunanan served as the master of ceremonies. He introduced TOFARM's rationale to uplift the lives of Filipino farmers, who continuously strive to provide the nation with assurance in food production amid recurring challenges, such as climate change.
Alex Arborita, Agri-Initiative Gold Awardee 2016 from Villaconzoilo Community Association (VILCOA), shared his experience and success in farming before the heartfelt message delivered by JCIP General Legal Counsel Atty. Karen Guillermo.
Former DA Undersecretary Ariel Cayanan was also present to enlighten the attendees about the state of agriculture in the nation.
Before the press conference closed, TOFARM chief advocate and UHI president and chief executive officer (CEO) Dr. Milagros How answered questions from the press.
TOFARM received 800 nominations and awarded 185 individuals across the Philippines from 2012 until 2018.
This year, nominations will begin on June 1 and be divided into two categories: individual and group.
In the individual category, nominations are open for the following: farmer, woman farmer, young farmer, agri-innovator, agri-entrepreneur, urban farmer, fisherfolk, and livestock. Winners will receive a TOFARM plate and P50,000.
Meanwhile, group categories accept nominations for the family farmer, agri-initiatives, agri-cooperative, and local government unit (LGU). The winners will receive a TOFARM plate and P100,000 cash.
The awarding ceremony will take place on November 15, 2023.
For more details and updates, visit the TOFARM website to access the nomination forms. On social media, like and follow TOFARM on Facebook to stay informed about the latest developments.
Transforming community with farming
Alex Aborita
SHARING SUCCESS. Alex Aborita during his talk in the Top Outstanding Farmers (TOFARM) relaunch. (Photo: Rodolfo Dacleson II/Radyo Natin Nationwide)
Barangay Conzoilo in Jaro, Leyte, is home to the Villaconzoilo Farm, which was built with a mere P1,800 start-up capital.
The now seven-hectare agri-tourism destination, recognized by numerous institutions such as the Land Bank of the Philippines and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), started as a 500-square meter farm.
No one knows where VILCOA would stand today if not for the diligence and contribution of the community led by former Barangay Captain Aborita in 2009. Turning the bare fertile land into a developed area that brings income to the locality and sustains food availability is no easy feat without the collective effort from Barangay Conzoilo residents.
In his talk, Aborita expressed his gratitude to TOFARM for giving him the opportunity to share VILCOA's story of how it transformed their lives. They can sell their produce fresh from the farm and earn more through innovations.
VILCOA has also become a certified Technical Education And Skills Development Authority (TESDA) for agricultural competencies.
Furthermore, Aborita expressed his gratitude for TOFARM, which helped them recover from the aftermath of Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2016, which devastated their crops.
"Nasira po lahat ng kabuhayan namin doon sa Jaro. So doon po ang first time na na-meet ko si Sir Rommel (Cunanan), then kasama ang TOFARM, may dala po silang mga seeds doon sa amin," Aborita narrated.
(We lost all our livelihood in Jaro. That's where I first met Sir Rommel (Cunanan), along with TOFARM. They brought seeds with them to our place)
"Yung mga pananim po namin was devastated by Yolanda then nagpapasalamat po kami sa TOFARM doon sa tulong nila," he added.
(Our crops were devastated by Yolanda, and we are grateful to TOFARM for their assistance)
Through TOFARM, Aborita also learned new farming techniques in the NGO's Lakbay Aral program in Japan and other countries.
Aborita said the knowledge he acquired in his field studies abroad has significantly increased their community's monthly income when they put it into practice.
VILCOA is a living testament to how cooperation between a local farming community, the private sector, and the government can earn and live with agriculture.
Government and private sector must work together
Dr. Milagros How
HONEST ASSESSMENT. TOFARM chief advocate/chairperson and UHI president & CEO Dr. Milagros How told reporters that the Philippine government plays a huge role in uplifting the lives of the local farmers. (Photo: Rodolfo Dacleson II/Radyo Natin Nationwide)
In a media roundtable, How asserted that intervention from the government is necessary to improve the lives of Filipino farmers, as the private sector cannot do it alone.
"We like to help them connect with the government also. Hindi kasi kaya ng private kasi malaking tulong talaga [ang government dahil sa] ibang bansa ganun din," How shared. "Malaking bagay tulad ng [sa] India, Indonesia, at Malaysia, malaki ang role ng government."
(We would like to help them connect with the government as well. Private efforts alone are not enough because government assistance is truly a significant help, just like in other countries. The government plays a significant role, as seen in India, Indonesia, and Malaysia.)
When asked if the country can become competitive enough to compete with its Southeast Asian neighbors in the next five to ten years, How replied it was possible but stressed the same sentiment.
Regarding the biofertilizer issue, How refused to talk about the controversy. Yet, she agreed that the supply of standard, cheaper fertilizers must be sufficient.
"Kami sa TOFARM…Meron kaming Lakbay Aral. Tutuloy namin 'yon. Makikilala nila yong kapwa nila farmers sa ibang bansa. Mga maging modelo nila sa kanilang mga bukod." How said.
(As for us at TOFARM, we have a study tour. We will continue with that. They will get to know their fellow farmers in other countries. They will become models for their respective communities.)
How also stated that their organization was open to information sharing, and they have been doing it for years. The TOFARM chief advocate/chairperson even welcomed the idea of inviting the media to see their initiative.

Last Modified: 2023-Sep-27 10.28.03 UTC+0800