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by Zac B. Sarian
01-June-2009 Agribusiness Week
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One outstanding farmer we met lately is a widow who could easily beat many male counterparts in the business of farming. She is 54-year old Lydia Lapastora of Yeban Norte, Benito Soliven, Isabela.

We met her at the media presentation on biotech crops under the auspices of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) headed by Dr. Emil Q. Javier, and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech . Applications (ISAAA) represented by Dr. Randy Hautea. Lydia was invited to share her experiences in planting transgenic corn because she is an example of a farmer who is progressive because she readily adopts the latest technologies.

When transgenic corn, more popularly called GMO or genetically modified organism, was finally allowed to be commercially planted in the Philippines in 2005, Lydia was one of the first adoptors and has been growing the same two times a year (sometimes three times) on 10 hectares of farmland.

She remembers that there were so many people who were against biotech crops, including a priest in her hometown who told his parishioners not to plant the so-called GMOs. But she didn’t heed the admonition and is glad she didn’t.

There are actually two transgenic corn varieties that Lydia is growing. One is the Bt corn in which the genes of the Bacillus thuringiensis (a bacterium) is implanted in the plant so that it is not attacked by the every destructive corn earworm. The other GMO corn is the so-called herbicide-tolerant variety. This enables the farmer to save on the cost of weeding. When the corn plantation is sprayed with herbicide, only the weeds are killed and not the corn. Since manual weeding is very expensive, the use of herbicide makes it easier and less expensive to weed a farm, especially when a big area of several hectares is involved. With herbicide, weeding a big area can be done in just a short time.

Last year, Lydia planted the two transgenic corn two times and averaged 6.4 tons per hectare. That is almost double the average of 3.57 tons per hectare harvested by corn farmers planting conventional corn. On the average, she realized an additional profit of P11,000 per hectare as a-result of planting transgenic corn. Since she planted two times on the same area, she really made a substantial income from the GMOs.

Because of her success in growing corn, Lydia has been invited on so many occasions to speak on her experience in growing corn in particular and farming in general. One of her latest speaking engagements was before land reform beneficiaries during the 25th anniversary of the Department of Agrarian Reform.

When she got married to Ricardo Lapastora in 1971, they started literally from scratch. She recounts that they started farming by planting corn on one-half hectare. She remembers very well that from that first planting, they grossed the princely sum of P600. And what did they do with the six hundred pesos? They used it to buy a 4,000 square meter farm from her brother.

The couple also planted the 4,000 square meters to corn and made P800 from their first harvest. They used the income to buy their first carabao which also cost them exactly P800. They continued to plant corn and continued to reinvest their income in new farmlands and in other projects that enabled them to make more money.

For instance, in 1996 the couple made a net income of P20,000 from one corn harvest. Instead of buying a new farm, they bought six native female cattle which they dispersed to relatives and friends for them to take care and to breed. Under the scheme, if the dispersed animal is still very young when it was dispersed, the caretaker will keep the first calf while the next would be given to the Lapastoras, and so on.

Up to this day, even if Lydia is now a widow (her husband died in 2005), her dispersal project is continuing. She has at present 15 cattle breeders distributed to different caretakers. If her share is a male calf, she would sell it. But if it is a female, she would disperse it to a caretaker she trusts. Aside from cattle, she also disperses carabaos. At present she has five female carabaos being taken care of by other farmers.

Another money-making activity is financing other corn farmers who need money for their inputs. She usually provides loans to several farmers cultivating a total of 100 hectares. For each hectare, she advances P20,000. The amount is returned after six months with an interest of 20 percent.

When they were already making a lot money from farming, they were confident enough to borrow money from the bank to buy three big brand new tractors. They used these to prepare the farms of other farmers for a fee. They used to charge P1,800 for plowing one hectare. When her husband had become sickly, Lydia decided to give the tractors to her children for them to operate. The children now have their own families and are farming on their own. Lydia, of course still uses the tractors to till her 10 hectares but she has to pay for the fuel.

Thanks to corn, Lydia, who only finished sixth grade in school, has really gone a long way in achieving financial success, considering the fact that she and her husband started farming on just half a hectare after marriage in 1971. She now farms 10 hectares, lives in a big house, travels in a late model car and has trucks for hauling her corn harvests

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