Meant to Lead

Story by Annabelle Encabo (Enterprise Development Specialist, CARE Philippines) Usie Biona finds hope in vegetable production after typhoon Haiyan devastated her livelihoods in 2013.   CARE Philippines, through its Typhoon Haiyan Reconstruction Assistance (THRA) project, launched the Season-long Training for Vegetable Farmers in Northern Iloilo in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture, the Local Government of Lemery and Taytay sa Kauswagan, Inc (TSKI), as CARE’s facilitating partner in the Province of Iloilo.   The program, funded by the Government of Canada through the Global Affairs Canada, initially trained a small group of rice and corn farmers to plant vegetables to increase food security and resiliency in the area, once devastated by super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in 2013. The 10-week season long training approach was practical and experiential and designed for informal learners. Every Tuesday, a lecture and demonstration is conducted by a skilled farmer technician in a community demo farm and every Friday of that week, farmers go home to replicate what they have learned. The highlight of the training were the techniques for growing vegetables year round, regardless of the season and weather. The technology hopes to bring in sustained income for farmers and boost their food and nutrition security.   This is the story of how one woman named Usie Biona acquired confidence and helped other women become empowered.   A wife, a mother of three, a vegetable farmer, a local official, and a farmer leader. All these roles describe Usie. At 48, she lives in the agriculture-dependent province of Iloilo in the Philippines. It is interesting to note that happy incidents thrust her to take on added responsibilities which she said she did not dream of having after she started her own family and took a full-time role of being both a wife and mother.   In early 2013, Usie’s daughter Krissa Mae came rushing home one day with a wild idea on how to get a free college education -- for her mother to become a community official. Her daughter said that a son or a daughter of a local official is eligible to apply for a scholarship and study in the local college. Pleased at the initiative and persistence of her daughter, Usie was convinced to run for an elective post and won.   As a local official, one of Usie’s projects in their village is to promote activities that engage women, especially mothers. Being the Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, she encouraged backyard gardening in every household. She led by example, establishing her own backyard garden first, and then helping other women with theirs. Usie’s natural ability to lead soon led her to be elected as President of the San Diego Farmers’ Association (SDFA).   The association has a total of 100 members, mostly rice and corn farmers, 34 of whom are women.   In 2017, CARE launched the ‘Season Long Training’ on Vegetable Farming to promote vegetable production as a form of food security and alternative source of income for farmers who were affected by super typhoon Haiyan in 2013.   Usie was approached by the president of a farmers’ association from their neighboring village to attend the training. At first, Usie was not able to convince her members to join because they were busy tending their respective farms, so she volunteered herself for the training but when her neighbors and association members saw her farm, they were inspired to follow. Usie admitted that she was not fond of eating vegetables. But when she saw how her farm has progressed and how healthy the vegetables were, she convinced herself that her produce are not only nice to look at, but also tastes good. After all, going vegan is not only good for her health but also for her family.   In 2018, recognizing her active participation in vegetable farming replication, she was invited to join the CARE-supported Lemery People’s Agricultural Cooperative (LEPACO), a cooperative of five cluster farmers organization with over 300 members, where Usie was appointed Chairperson of the Ethics Committee and later on as Marketing Officer.   Asked if she does not hear any complaints from her husband, Usie said that her husband is equally busy and that her family is very supportive. Since all her children are now grown up, she enjoys the added work to keep her busy and active, at the same time being able to help others. She added that in her community other women are now able to take on roles in their association and tend their respective farms in addition to household duties.   Usie hopes that this empowerment of women will enable them to be less dependent on their spouses, and able to provide additional support to the family while finding their personal niche. “Earning from your own labor is a nice feeling, it is empowering”, Usie shared.   Usie now earns up to Php 8,000 (USD 147.3) a week from her vegetable farm and contributes significantly to the family income. Her daughter Krissa Mae has completed her scholarship and now works at a local bank.   To read more about CARE's work in the Philippines, click here.