The Casuga family owns a 25-hectare fruit farm in Barangay Malagos, Davao City that is not only a source of livelihood but also a healing place for Cher who is a cancer survivor. The land was initially developed for agritourism that offered farm life experience with workshops on dairy processing, urban gardening and organic agriculture. The vision was to promote food security in the households and healthy meal plans. In recent years, the family decided to open their property to small farmers, lot owners, tenants and growers in the nearby communities to educate them about integrated farming and agribusiness. They grow crops like cacao, mangosteen, coconut, guyabano, and organic vegetables. They also venture into tilapia aquaculture and dairy farming which allows them to produce value added products like fresh milk, tablea, kesong puti, and yogurts.
ICT has become a vital component in agriculture. It can create efficient information and communications processes to boost agricultural and rural development. “Crop growing and food production are moving towards mechanization; therefore it is important that we also equip our students with ICT-related skills. We are taking the steps in providing our students the knowledge to efficiently grow their crops, harvest, process and market their products to make their shift from farming to agribusiness smooth. We should pursue relevant, efficient, and effective entrepreneurship education in the Agribusiness sector. We look forward to providing new and emerging programs in the agriculture sector that would have an impact on the current situation of the country under the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in the food security of the city,” says Cherrylin “Cher” Casuga, President of Casuga Farm.
Guided by the desire to continue providing additional skills to small-scale farmers and agripreneurs affected by the pandemic, the Casuga family worked on getting an accreditation from the Department of Agriculture – Agricultural Training Institute (DA – ATI) and Technical Education and Skill Development Authority (TESDA) to turn their farm into a training institute. In October 2020, Casuga Integrated Farm School (CIFS) opened its first batch of student-farmers.
“We remain focused on our objective to reach out and give opportunities for our students to learn more about farming. We partner with government agencies and private organizations that can provide skills development training especially on sustainable agriculture. We continuously enhance the program of our farm school to be a qualified institution that can develop the capacity of each student-farmer who graduates from CIFS. We endeavor to effectively create a more enterprise – based curriculum and make our training regulations as equipped as possible,” shares Cher.
Training during this pandemic can be quite a challenge, fortunately CIFS managed to smoothly adapt to the teaching and learning paradigms in the new normal. The lectures conducted by TESDA trainers are delivered fully online. The setup allows the school to gather a minimal number of participants in an open space while also accommodating students who have access to the internet to attend the virtual lectures. Hands-on activities that require face to face classes are done in small batches that strictly follow a schedule. “Our school is adapting the blended learning approach which combines face-to-face, modular, and online. Our face-to-face activities are compliant to the requirements set by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and adheres to the minimum health and safety protocols as mandated by IATF,” explains Cher.
“It is very convenient that there is an internet connection in the farm. Our trainers can easily conduct their training thru Zoom. They can also immediately provide feedback and answer questions from our participants during classes,” says Jay Lloyd Serencio, one of the facilitators of CIFS.
In the curriculum of the second batch of Organic Agriculture Production student-farmers, CIFS in partnership with @SM Foundation’s Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan (KSK) Program, integrated Smart’s Digital Farmers Program (DFP) 101 module. The DFP video courses can help the students enhance their digital skills which they can apply in their farming journey such as how to safely navigate and sell products online and how to use agriculture mobile applications endorsed by the Department of Agriculture.
“The Digital Farmers Program aims to ensure that our farmers do not get left behind by the digital revolution and that they can participate in the digital economy. In partnership with DA-ATI we at Smart train smallholder farmers on basic digital skills and how to make the internet and social media work for them to increase access to information and expand their market online,” shares Stephanie V. Orlino, AVP Smart Community Partnerships.
To enable farm schools like CIFS, the Philippines largest integrated telco PLDT and its wireless arm Smart are expanding their fixed and wireless networks across the country. As of December 2020, PLDT’s extensive fiber infrastructure is currently more than 429,000 kilometers. This fiber infrastructure supports Smart’s mobile networks, which now cover 96% of the population and is available in 95% of the country’s cities and municipalities. Heeding the government’s call to elevate the country’s telecommunications industry and deliver world-class services, PLDT announced that it was prepared to invest between Php 88 billion and Php 92 billion this year to meet the requirements of its mobile and fixed line customers.