By Julius Barcelona and Aubregyn V. Ancheta

How much land does one need to make good money from agriculture? Conventional wisdom often tells us we should “go big or go home.” The most successful farmers, it seems, are those who can afford to harvest from hectares upon hectares of large scale plantations or giant livestock operations. Is making money from farming a luxury, then, that most of us can only dream of? Are we doomed to see the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer?

Roland Aga of Magumbali, Candaba, Pampanga might be inclined to disagree with that. This 45-year-old man makes anywhere from R60,000 to R120,000 a month from a small piece of property no bigger than a rural basketball court, from selling only one thing: seedlings. Rolando grows thousands of seedlings every month depending on the demands of his customers. Among these, his favorite is Red Lady papaya seedlings.

Roland Aga and his wife Jennifaire posing with their precious Red Lady seedlings.

His big break came seven years ago. As the eldest boy in an impoverished family of nine, sacrificing his personal wants for the good of his family was something he had grown accustomed to. He never finished traditional schooling, instead opting to work and support his younger siblings through their studies. This left a strong impression on them, and they never forgot how his hardworking nature had supported them all those years. True enough, his brother Arnel was able to put together the funds to start an agri supply store and invited his hardworking eldest brother to join him.

At the time, Red Lady papaya was already one of the most in-demand and marketable varieties of papaya available. This was due to its high tolerance to Papaya Ringspot Virus, a deadly disease that made other papaya varieties unable to bear fruit properly. However, the process of germinating papaya seed is troublesome and rather tedious, requiring around 4 to 6 weeks of care before transplanting. Red Lady was no exception.

Aga seized on this opportunity and began contacting growers of papaya through his sister-in-law Marilou, offering to be the outsourcer for seedling production. The growers gratefully accepted his offer. He is very partial to Red Lady due to its high germination rate (85-90%) and its uncomplicated nature; he enjoys caring for seedlings that respond so well to his care.

Red Lady seedlings ready for selling.

Starting by soaking the seeds in clean, cold water for around 30 minutes, Aga then prepares a soil-less potting medium made from a mix of equal parts well-washed coco coir dust and Klassmann brand TS1 and TS2 medium from Allied Botanical Corp. He believes this mixture is the best for seed germination and provides a comfortable environment for the seeds. He sows the seeds in his medium using 128-hole plastic seedling trays.

He sprays his own secret concoction of fungicides to prevent diseases from infecting his growing seedlings. Irrigation is needed everyday to ensure the seeds are kept slightly moist. After 15-18 days, the seedlings are transferred to PE plastic propagation bags to give the roots ample space to grow. In a few more weeks, they are ready for sale.

Aga can produce up to 3,500 seedlings per month, depending on the season. He sells each seedling for R35, and this adds up to total sales revenues of more than R120,000 on a good month. Not bad for so little space and a lot of tender, loving care. His customers know they can depend on him to produce high-quality seedlings of Red Lady papaya, and it is that reliability which keeps them coming back to do business with him.

Aga’s hardworking nature, which allowed him to sacrifice all for his family, has paid off, and his business, though small, keeps him and his family happy and fulfilled.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s June 2016 issue.