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Delightful factoids found in agriculure journalism

Monday, December 3, 2018

The 12th Bright Leaf Agricultural Journalism Awards were given on Nov. 16 at the Fairmont Makati Hotel.

The top four winners were: Henrylito Tacio of Edge Davao with “The Grass That Feeds Filipinos” as Agri Story of the Year; Ian Ocampo Flora of Sun Star Pampanga with “Is Tobacco the Next ‘Miracle Crop’?” as Tobacco Story of the Year; Wilfredo Lomibao of Philippine Daily Inquirer with “Pond Harvest” as Agri Photo of the Year; and Erwin Beleo of The Star Northern Luzon for “Chili Only” as Tobacco Photo of the Year.

Other winners were Ma. Victoria Conde of Rappler with “How Beekeeping Helped a Sorsogon Coconut Farm” for the new category of Best Online Story; Karren Montejo of ABS-CBN Davao with “ATD: Biotechnology Series” for TV Program/Segment; Marilu Manar of DZND Kidapawan with “Vermi Composting” for Radio Program/Segment; Jasper Emmanuel Arcalas and Cal Ordinario of Business Mirror with “Snapshot of Rice Consumption Data Remains Grainy as Pinoys Grapple with Supply, Prices” for News Story — National; Karlston Lapniten of Baguio Chronicle with “Brewing Enough Coffee for the Filipino Cup” for News Story — Regional; Jasper Emmanuel Arcalas of Business Mirror with “Fowl Farmers’ Fears Persist 1 Year After Bird Flu Flare-up” for Feature Story — National; and Hanna Lacsamana of Baguio Midland Courier with “Making Agriculture Viable for Millennials” for Feature Story — Regional.

The judges’ panels this year were composed of Sev Sarmenta, Josefina Dela Cruz, Edwin Sallan, Rina Jimenez David, Francis Abraham, Isabelita Reyes, Marby Villaceran, Rem Zamora, Bong Osorio, Albert Gamboa and Jake Maderazo.

Opening remarks were delivered before the awards presentation by freshly installed PMFTC president Lawrence Chew of Singapore, looking much like a fresh college graduate, and External Communications Director Varinia “Bayen” Elero Tinga.

Guest of honor Nico Bolzico then rendered an informative presentation as keynote speaker, on “Connecting Farmers Through Technology.” He grew up in a cattle farm in a small town in Argentina, and earned his Math and Economics degree from the Universidad de San Andres in Buenos Aires, then tacked on two master’s degrees — one in Global Finance and Capital Markets, and another in Global Banking.

Coming to the Philippines seven years ago as a young farmer, he established Siembra Directa Corporation and LM10, seeking to elevate local agribusiness with innovative technologies, development of new productive possibilities and refined experiences in agriculture. Expansion introduced other companies: Bolzico Beef, which imports beef from Argentina; Vienova Philippines, which produces all-natural animal feeds; Precision Agriculture, for improving idle lands; and Genex Biotech Group, which aims to boost dairy and beef production by bringing advanced livestock genetics into the country.

As a farmer, businessman, and model, Nico Bolzico has also become a social media influencer and a celebrity.

For my part, I spoke of my experiencce as chair of the judges for the second straight year, and ten years in all as a BLAJA judge. Following are excerpts from my speech:

The winning entries easily capture our interest, such as when we learn of the world-class Filipino creation of chocolate by way of exemplary cocoa production.

As fascinating is learning of how certain stingless native bees, called “kiwot,” are so tiny that they can penetrate coconut flowers, thus making them excellent pollinators. At the Villa Corazon farm in Bulusan, Sorsogon is a seven-hectare coconut plantation that uses these bees to help the farm increase its yield by 35% to 50%. 

We are surprised to learn that our country is actually the fifth top consumer of coffee in the world — this according to a report that also says we are the fourth largest total coffee importer (of combined soluble and green coffee beans), and — get this — the world’s top importer of soluble or instant coffee.

There’s good news that the conduct of “chawa,” a time-honored indigenous agricultural management practice that fosters sharing, has kept our famed Banaue Rice Terraces from falling off the Unesco World Heritage Site list.

Then there is the Philippine-bred tilapia that has been called the “miracle fish” or “superfish” — an accolade earned upon its presentation by Filipino scientists in an international conference in Wales some years ago. 

This leads us to the question of whether we should stll fear GMOs or start listening to science. Increasing evidence and arguments raised by scientists appear to suggest the latter option.

Among the entries dwelling on the GMO question, I’ve learned that “biotechnology is involved in the process of giving us patis, soy sauce, and nata de coco, among other popular products.”

We might as well cast away fears about GMO as radical protest garbage. Speaking of which, I have also learned that the trash problem in urban households can now be addressed by way of vermi composting with the introduction of the African Night Crawler or ANC Dormitel, which was discovered by an agricultural technologist from Kidapawan City.

So many wondrous delights, even as just info tibdits, come our way when judging the entries to the Bright Leaf Agricultural Journalism Awards contest.

May it continue and thrive for many more years, well beyond the time when indeed we may find ourselves self-sufficient in both coffee and rice production — if only to assure ourselves of a hearty breakfast, before our first smoke for the bright new day.

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