The ‘Ant Man’

Neither Lucio Tan nor Henry Sy serves as the inspiration of this successful organic rice farmer from Bayugan City, Agusan del Sur. Instead, he looks up to a small, yet hardworking ant that dreams big and never gives up.

Engineer Carlos “Bong” Salazar, 63 years old, shares that his secret to success is emulating the qualities of an ant: wise, hardworking, responsible, and resourceful, among others.

Bong comes from an impoverished family in Cotabato. He recalls how hard their life was during his childhood years. “Both my parents did not finish college. It was only through farming that they were able to feed us, eight siblings. We would spend almost the entire day on the farm and would only return home at sundown, dirty and weary, riding our carabao. Every time we pass by a group of bystanders in a sari-sari store, all eyes would be on us with this pitying look,” he professed.

Bong took poverty as a challenge. He knew he could crawl out of it if he follows the ant’s ways. He studied hard while working part-time. He eventually finished college with a double degree in Civil Engineering and Agricultural Engineering. After obtaining his license as an Agricultural Engineer, he moved to Bayugan in the ‘70s as an entry-level engineer in the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).

At work, his ‘ant ways’ hoisted him to higher ranks. He became the Regional Director of NIA in Caraga Region and ultimately the National Administrator in NIA Central Office. Yet, while experiencing the leaps and bounds in his career, he never rested on his laurels. “I never forgot about farming. I always put much importance to it,” Bong quips.

Luck was on his side when he met a friend who offered him a parcel of land which was payable on an installment basis. He grabbed the opportunity and started cultivating it with lowland rice. He invested the fruits of his labor to farming by acquiring more farmlands and innovated new technologies in growing rice. The Department of Agriculture and Philippine Rice Research Institute are among the agencies that provided him with vital information, especially the technical briefings on rice production. “There are more interesting things to know in farming, you just have to tap friends who can help,” Bong notes.

The Brainchild of SSIA

Unknown to many, Bong conceptualized and introduced the Sustainable System of Irrigated Agriculture (SSIA) based on his readings, experimentation, and innovative ideas. This is a system in rice production that uses lesser water and seedling but still attains higher yield. It also involves proper transplanting, planting distance, the practice of organic agriculture, and good farm management.

Bong believes that the water requirement for the rice plant should just be at the minimum especially during its vegetative growth period. “Why water up to the stem? Where does the rice plant absorb water? It should only be up to the roots!” he argues.

In SSIA, water requirement varies depending on the stage of the rice plant. This is the reason why Bong practices ‘intermittent irrigation’ method because there are times when a thin layer of water is introduced into his rice paddies, while there are also times when they are left dried and cracked.

Furthermore, he notes that he doesn’t use water from the NIA canal in SSIA. He installed his deep well pump to supply the water requirements of his lowland rice production. “All sources of water should not be taken from where everyone else is taking. Hence, you must have your source of water or filtration system to avoid contamination,” explains Bong who is an organic agriculture advocate.

In Bong’s SSIA, he only uses five kg of seeds per hectare, compared to the traditional practice of using 40 kg. He only plants one seedling per hill at a distance of 30 cm x 15 cm. Surprisingly, this method helps him produce more than 100 tillers with an average harvest of 180-200 cavans per hectare, under normal weather conditions.

Bong likewise formulates his concoction of organic fertilizer. It is composed of vermicast (40%) and carbonized rice hull or CRH (20%). The remaining 40% is his compost which is a mixture of banana peelings, chicken dung, azolla, corn cobs, rice hulls (from his pig pens), and hog or goat wastes. All the substrates are from his farm, for lesser expenses. Bong’s organic fertilizer is not only economical and environment – friendly, but it also helps improve soil texture and increases yield in rice as well. It is also an income-generating activity for Bong because he markets it in different parts of Mindanao.

Organic Rice Boot Camp

Bong continues to advocate the practice of SSIA and organic rice farming to other farmers, extension workers, and students in the Caraga Region who visit his farm. Recently, his farm visitors increased tremendously after he was certified as ATI’s Extension Service Provider (ESP) through the Agricultural Machineries on Irrigation Growing Organic (AMIGO) Farm. As an ESP, his farm became an organic rice boot camp where farm lovers undergo training on organic agriculture.

This paved the way for Bong to convey his rich and invaluable learnings and experiences. He constructed his training center, dormitory, and kitchen facilities for this purpose. “I am so thankful to ATI for helping me hone my knowledge through their training and for opening windows of opportunities as a certified ESP,” Bong acknowledges.

Preparing for the Rainy Days

Income from his organic rice and fertilizers finances other farm projects such as his piggery (Babuyang Walang Amoy), goat, poultry, vermi, and fishpond that includes koi, azolla, and floating shed. Looking far and beyond, his ultimate dream is to develop his farm into a premiere farm-tourism destination in Caraga. He already had initial talks with the Department of Tourism (DOT) and ATI on how they can help realize his dream. He prays it won’t take too long so he can still leave something for his children before his time ends.

 “You are still young. Invest in agriculture. You’ll never know when the rainy days come,” he shares while recalling the time he was comatose for three days. Bong explains that had it not been for farming, he would not have money to cover his medications, huge hospital bills, and other post-operation treatments. “That’s why I owe my second life to God and farming,” he concludes.

There is a famous line that Bong holds so dear. He framed it, hang it on his wall as a reminder to be always as wise and persevering as an ant. It reads: “Be like ants — busy preparing for the rainy days.”

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