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Dream Big for the Smallest Among Us

SEED brings new life to San Miguel's Community Center in Sumilao, Bukidnon

A vision of “a poverty-free nation built by individuals and institutions who care and share so that no one will be left behind,” and a mission to “raise a generation of agri-entrepreneurs who will end poverty for themselves, their families, their communities, and their country.” This is the thrust of SEED Philippines or the School for Experiential and Entrepreneurial Development. A program of Gawad Kalinga (GK), whose goal is to end poverty for five million families by 2024, SEED Philippines is now in Mindanao with the help of San Miguel Foundation (SMF) and San Miguel Foods, Inc., which donated several hectares of land for the campus.

The Sumilao campus opened in September and is now home to 22 young student-farmers who are now learning the ropes in agri-based social entrepreneurship. Each batch of students will complete their course in two years.

After only three months into their first year, the SEED Sumilao scholars have put up a rudimentary agricultural lab. In small plots of land just meters away from their dormitories, they grow pechay, garlic, and onions. Their harvest isn't yet enough to sell in the local market, but it does go toward complementing their everyday meals.

The vermicomposting area is also part of the agri-lab. Jed Linondo, a SEED Sumilao student, found African Nightcrawler worms, known to be effective decomposers, in his own backyard and while it's too early to see whether the students have gotten the technique down pat, they're clearly pleased by their ability to get things done on their own. 

Just before Christmas, San Miguel Foods, Gawad Kalinga, and local government officials attended the official inauguration of the campus. The students themselves organized tours and demos for the guests. On show was the organic fertilizer they've concocted using simple household ingredients and food products they themselves had produced: sun-dried tomatoes, beef jerky, tablea chocolate, and organic coffee.

SEED Philippines director Mark Lawrence Cruz is proud of the products they've developed, but placed the emphasis squarely on the students: “Our school provides our students' opportunities to fail. It functions like a true R&D (research and development) lab. Kaya mahirap ang SEED, we demand so much of them. Their journey has just begun, but we are already grateful for their trust in us to mold them.”

SEED Sumilao school director Max Rebucan adds: “Here in SEED, we don’t give out numerical grades. We assess our students and tell them what they excel at and how they can improve. After the first round of assessments, I’m proud to say that our students are showing more initiative to help one another. That’s a very big deal to me!”

WELCOME TO SEED SUMILAO

SEED Sumilao’s entrepreneur-in-residence Bryle Abante shares his story about how SEED has changed his life. Abante, who graduated from the program in Bulacan in its fourth batch last June 12, hails from Bukidnon and upon returning is developing his coffee (Kape Bai!) and beef jerky (Kusahos Beef Jerky) businesses.

Says Abante: “We are a family of farmers and it has not been an easy life. In high school, my family and I harvested rice, sold wood to survive. When it was time for me to work, I found jobs in construction and poultry, but still, I couldn’t find happiness. I was not satisfied.”

Abante mentioned that what prompted him to look for scholarships was seeing his classmates studying and graduating from their studies, while he worked as a sweeper at the municipal hall. “Hindi lang ako pwedeng maging taga-walis,” he shares. It was around that time when he was able to connect to SEED through one of his GK leaders, and the rest was history. He applied, was accepted, made his way to Bulacan and finished the two-year program. His research on beef was completed around Bukidnon, while he visited GK communities.

Since then, Abante has been able to help Bukidnon coffee farmers gain a steady profit (farmers were only paid as much as P50, while Abante buys for around P350) by filling the gap between the farmer and market. San Miguel Foods helped sponsor Abante’s equipment for his product development. From a boy who was once soft-spoken and who barely said a word, to an entrepreneur with confidence and integrity, Abante's life has truly changed: “After graduating from SEED, I wanted to come back home to Bukidnon, to find solutions for the problems in my community.”

Cecile Ang, trustee of San Miguel Foundation, is a champion for San Miguel's first SEED Academy.

LOVE THE LAND

Dr. Leo Obviar, vice president and general manager of San Miguel Foods, Inc. met Bryle and the undergraduates during the official opening of the campus and spoke to them about how important it is for them to learn to love and respect the land: “Malapit ako sa lupa, kaya hindi ako nadalawang isip na pumayag na gamitin ang lupa ng San Miguel Foods dito para sa SEED Sumilao. Napakahalaga na magkaroon ng lugar na turuan ang ating mga kabataan, lalung-lalo na sa agrikultura.”

Obviar's love of agriculture is rooted as far back as elementary school, when he first learned gardening. He spoke to the students on the current challenges facing the agricultural sector: the importation of cheaper staple fruits and vegetables and the lack of employment opportunities in rural areas. That children of farmers would prefer to look for jobs in the city was something that he said he understood, but also hoped might change with the next generation. 

Cruz shares his hopes, “There is wealth in agriculture. God blessed us with one of the most arable lands in the region; and the Philippines with great agricultural assets. We want to develop people that know how to love the land so they can love their country better.”

Currently, the average age of Filipino farmers is 56 years old, and initiatives like SEED Sumilao will slowly bring new blood into this vital economic sector.

In the next few months, SEED Sumilao campus will expand its agri-lab and hopefully provide room for the next batch of students next year.

It is San Miguel’s goal to continue efforts of malasakit to fellow Filipinos in need. As Gawad Kalinga executive director Luis Oquinena says, it is our responsibility to “Dream big for the smallest among us.”

Shares Cruz: “We want to show you the possibility when Filipinos work together. Walang imposible kapag nagtulungan tayo. We are giving opportunities to help a generation of farmers who will lead our country. All over the country, agricultural schools are closing down. We opened one, and we will not stop here.” Next stop for SEED: Caticlan, Aklan province.

This article first appeared in Kaunlaran, San Miguel's internal newsmagazine. This article has been edited and re-written for World We Want

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