By Henrylito D. Tacio
Most people know him as a boxing commentator, a journalist (he used to write for Tempo and is a lifetime member of the National Press Club), a politician (mayor, governor and vice-governor), and book author (he is the man behind Feeding millions: A blueprint on food security), Emmanuel F. Piñol is actually a farmer through and through.
“I was born on the farm. I was raised on a farm. I am a farmer by heart,” said Piñol, who was born in Bialong, M’lang, North Cotabato, the second of 11 sons of Bernardo and Efigenia Piñol. “As a young boy, my brothers and I were taught by our father to love the soil and to look at the soil as the source of life. I could confidently say that I have a different perspective when I look at a landscape. I also appreciate what I see around me in the context of ‘what could this area be useful in producing food?’”
I recently had an opportunity to visit the Braveheart Farm and Nursery, which is located at barangay Paco in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato. Actually, it’s my second time; the first time was when he was the vice governor of the province.
“Never leave an area idle,” Piñol said. Those words were repeated every now and then as we toured the 12.2-hectare farm, which was divided into three lots and titled under his three children (Maria Krista, Josa Bernadette, and Bernhart Immanuel). “Legally, I am just a tenant in the properties owned by my children,” he said.
There’s an interesting story on how the farm got its name, and it has nothing to do with the award-winning Hollywood movie starring Mel Gibson.
Piñol was in his second term as governor of North Cotabato when his one and only son came into this world. “My son was born with a hole in the heart and he had to be kept in an incubator for two weeks before we brought him home,” he recalled. “He survived the heart abnormality and it has totally healed.”
That was how his son got his nickname Braveheart. And it was also a fitting name for the farm, which was initially planted to tropical fruits like lanzones. Later on, he started raising game fowls using breeding stocks he acquired from his visit to the United States. “I don’t engage myself in cockfighting,” he assured.
Encouraged by the rise in prices of natural rubber in the world market, Piñol embarked on a rubber nursery program. He propagated rubber clones that promise higher yield and resistance to diseases.
Piñol believed that every farming family should raise at least 20 heads of free-range chicken for their daily food needs. “As a farm boy, I had long known that while native free-range chickens are tastier with firm meat and long muscle strands, they are slow growers, smaller and have poor egg layers,” he said.
Piñol considered backyard chicken raising as the best farming activity because it offers the fastest return on investments and the risks are very low. “Losses could be absorbed by farmers because the value of the chicken is low,” he said.
He believed raising chickens in the backyard must be elevated into an industry where local government units assist farmers by organizing them into a network of chicken farmers to create a virtual poultry farm.
“Farmers must be assisted by government technicians who will monitor the farms and help in ensuring biosecurity including immunization programs,” he suggested. “Most of all, local government units must assist in creating a market.”
In his farm, he started a breeding experiment when an American friend, Jim Clem, sent him two dozen American heritage chickens. When they matured, he found out that they were all females so he had to look for roosters to breed with them.
It was about this time that a Muslim friend from Pikit town, Musim Mamintal, gave him some Pauwakan roosters. Also known as Jolo or Basilan chickens, the Pauwakans were believed to have been brought in from East Asia in the 14th century.
“When I bred the Pauwakan roosters with the American heritage hens, I produced cockerels and pullets with outstanding body conformation,” he said. “The average egg yield also increased which encouraged me to perpetuate the breeding until I was able to produce a new strain which I called Manok Pinoy.”
Today, the name Manok Pinoy is registered with the Intellectual Property Office. “I consider this breed as my modest contribution to the backyard free-range chicken industry of the country,” he said.
For further details about chicken raising, he is coming up with a book entitled, Breeding, Raising Backyard Chicken. “All of the things and information I share in the book are products of almost 23 years of breeding chicken, both game fowls and the free-range backyard chicken for meat and egg, the Manok Pinoy,” he said.
“Not only does the goat offer economic benefits to the farmer, it could also open the doors to additional sources of organic fertilizer and natural biological deterrents for pests and unwanted insects,” he said.
In the early stages of his game fowl breeding project in the farm, weevils feasted on his stored feeds they gave to the chicken. He said that when he started raising goats, the weevils just disappeared.
“The secret to a successful goat raising project depends on how the farmer prepares for the feed requirements of his goats,” Piñol said. “The more popular way of raising goats, especially dairy goats, is to place them in elevated pens where they are given forage.”
This type of raising goats may entail more work on the part of the farmer but “this is the most ideal set up in dairy goat farming because it ensures that the milking does are always clean,” he said.
In addition, the goat manure and the unconsumed forage could be gathered and placed in composting boxes with earthworms to produce vermicast fertilizer. He suggested that goat farmers must have enough forage grown in the farm “as this would bring down the cost of operations.”
In the past, he recommended raising purebred goats like Anglo Nubians and Saanen. These days, he suggested the best local native breeds in the area and crossbred these with Saanen. “These crossbreds are good producers of milk,” he said.
Aside from lanzones, another fruit that is predominantly grown in the farm is jackfruit. He is growing mainly the Abuyog Sweet, a variety developed by the Department of Agriculture’s Eastern Visayas Agriculture Research Center in Abuyog, Leyte.
There are several hundreds of jackfruit seedlings, which are shared throughout the country as part of his Green Philippines Advocacy. These seedlings are products of inarching, an asexual method of propagation. Instead of cutting the scions and inserting them into rootstocks on the ground, he hangs the rootstocks in bags from the branches of the jackfruit.
The rootstocks are cut and trimmed then inserted into a sliced opening in the side of a mature scion. In 45 days, the rootstocks “grab” the scion from the mother tree and become a young tree itself. “When the scions are mature, they could produce fruits during the 45-day period,” he said.
In fact, there are some seedlings that are already bearing fruits. “By choosing mature scions for inarching, the maturity and fruiting period of sexually propagated seedlings could be shortened from three years to one year,” Pinol said.
It’s not only crops, chickens and goats can be found in Braveheart Farm but fish as well. Last year, he established the multi-species hatchery project in partnership with the Southseas Agri-Aqua Ventures, a young agri company headed by Senator Ping Lacson. The aim is to produce quality fry and fingerlings of three freshwater species: tilapia, catfish (hito), and mudfish (dalag).
“Hopefully by the fourth quarter of this year, quality fingerlings of the new hybrid tilapia, hito and dalag will be available for distribution to our freshwater fish farmers,” he said.
Piñol loves to experiment. He is doing it on his farm. Not far from his home are three pots planted with soybeans. The first pot, the control plant, was planted to soybeans without any fertilizer application. The two others were planted to soybeans which were fertilized.
The unfertilized soybeans flowered well ahead compared to fertilized soybeans. “There is a scientific explanation to this,” he said. “A plant that does not have enough nutrients will, by its nature, try to preserve itself by producing flowers and fruits early. On the other hand, a well-nourished plant will flower at the right time because it is ‘confident’ that it is assured of enough nutrients.”
“Farming is so unlike car manufacturing where if you have the steel and the tires, you could project how many automobiles will roll out of the factory,” Piñol said. “Agriculture relies on so many factors – fertile land, sunlight, water and perfect climate.
“A deficiency in any of these elements could mean failure,” he said. “The combination must be perfect and only one Being could make that possible – God. Farming will always say that successful farming is 1% hard work and 99% prayers.”
We asked him if he can be compared to a fruit, what kind of fruit he would be? “I never thought of that. But really, I love fruits and it would be a tough task to choose what kind of fruit I would be. I guess, I’d like to be a sweet fruit. I could be a jackfruit, mango, lanzones, whatever. I simply just like to be sweet because a sweet fruit is the hallmark of successful farming.”
When then President Rodrigo R. Duterte appointed him as Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, people approved of it. “Filipino farmers are the core of everything in the Philippines,” he said. “Without them, we would be basically dependent on imports. Without them, the countryside would be a barren land of hungry people. Without them, the development of this country would be like a balloon – colorful outside but empty inside.”
He was still the agriculture secretary when we asked him if he would return to farming once he finished his stint as agriculture secretary. “Yes, I will go back to my farm again. In fact, if I die, I would like to be buried in my farm, near my chickens and my lanzones trees. I have already identified the mahogany tree which I planted more than two decades ago which I would like to use in making my wooden casket. I was born on a farm. I will take my final rest in the farm.”
Photos by Henrilito Tacio