summary

Per national government’s 2008 income classification, Barcelona is categorized as a 5th class municipality in the rural areas of Sorsogon Provincethat is comprised of one city and fourteen municipalities. Land area is 6,433.280 hectares, covering twenty five barangays. As of this writing, actual population count is almost 23,000, which count spreads across eleven coastal barangays and fourteen upland barangays. The number of households is at 5,207. 

It is linked to the Pan Pacific National Highway by a secondary road, the Ariman Junction to Bulusan Lake, in the town of Gubat. Barcelona is located 565 kilometres from Manila and is thirty fivekilometre near Sorsogon City, the seat of the provincial government of Sorsogon.

From Manila, it is accessible by a forty five-minute plane ride to Bicol International Airport in Albay province plus a two-hour land trip from that airport. Or, by a twelve-hour bus ride. This tropical, rural municipality is sandwhiched by the massive Pacific Ocean on the east and the mountain ranges on the west. Hazard assessments based on susceptibility maps and coordinates identify two hazards in Barcelona, namely, typhoon and flood. Connectivity wise, fiber optic connection is located in the secondary highway with existing internet service providers. Other areas of Barcelona are far from cell site towers and are out of range from signal strength of mobile data connection. Those areas have 2g signal only so that, for now, they are incapable of internet or data connection using Telco towers and fiber optic technology.

People’s livelihoods, one way or another, are dependent on agriculture. For context, the local government unit, under its current leadership, possesses inherent resources in terms of values and behavior, i.e., resilience, integrity and love and empathy for the have-nots. 

This wellspring of inspiration, from which strength is drawn, has a touching real life backstory. God made Barcelona home to a gentle laborer of impoverished birth, who took farming seriously to raise his family of four children; a farmer who fought poverty, gave farming his heart, mind and soul and equitably received back so much from it; a farmer who put premium on diplomas because he is bereft of one;7 a farmer who made his four children into accomplished persons that they are–three doctors of medicine and a lawyer. 

On July 1, 2019, day one in office of the current leadership, the local government unit was set in order, knowing that resources of government are not boundless and that there are limitations to what government can do for the people. 

Topmost is to tackle poverty that can either build or destroy dreams, either foster or frustrate quality of life—depending on how one respond to it. 

In the identification of prioritizable development programs, projects and activities by the local government unit and its stakeholders, livelihood, agriculture and tourism rank high. 

And so, bent on achieving development goals with measured outcomes, the local government unit reinvented and repurposed its almost a hectare piece of real property situated in the upland, rural barangay of Sta. Cruz, a seven-kilometre hike or ride from the secondary highway. 

It used to be that, through public-private partnership, and with the intervention of the Office of the President Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPPAP), that piece of real property was planted to [lakatan] banana. 

Accounts tell that the previous dispensation relied on tissue-culture techniques. It had to undergo the rigors of sourcing and hauling from Batangas University tissue cultured banana plants to ensure that the new banana plants to be planted are free from pest, disease and viruses. 

Formally organized and registered with the Department of Labor and Employment, the farmers, through their organization, received from the local government unit sustained assistance in the form of fertilizers and farm tools and implement. 

Added support included the construction of a commercial building in the vicinity of the Barcelona public market for utilization as banana trading post. Farmers avail of the facility, sans added cost. Traders from neighboring municipalities frequent the trading post. 

Banana farmers cheered as their income improved with years of success in increased volume of [lakatan] banana production. 

The then mayor of Barcelona, in his June 30, 2016 inaugural address entitled “Beautiful Barcelona”, partly said that:  

“xxxThe actualization of the Barcelona lakatan production program under this leadership was an occasion of industry that built the confidence of farmers and farmworkers that they are good enough. That they can pride themselves in abundance of their own produce. That they are a dynamic part of the progress process. Indeed, one unassailable stamp of transformational leadership made real.” “

xxxMore seeds of progress can be planted and grown.”

But nature behaves in peculiar ways: majestic or otherwise—calamitous or disastrous. 

Sadly, those tissue cultured banana plants succumbed to bunchy top virus that infected almost all banana plantations in the area. The infestation constrained the local government unit to authorize the destruction of the banana plants, which destruction, was deemed by experts to be imperative to arrest transmission of the disease. 

Farmers were thrown off track, exactly when they were almost coming within striking distance of extinguishing poverty. A phase of prosperity in their lives ended. 

With this reality staring the brand-new leadership10 right in the eye, pangs of accountability [for their plight] grip hard. Farmers ought to receive a dose of hope they need, fairly. 

Reinventing and repurposing that piece of real property meant sprucing it up and giving it a whole new life—one such long-term challenge. Not easy but it can be done. 

Aligned with the local government unit’s vision and mission on growth moored on upskilling and building up people, and highlighting livelihood and tourism, the local government unit concretized the positive mantra: there is hope in agriculture, capsulized in the catchy phrase, AgriHope—a tourism farm site. 

The local government unit, to be able to get more people from all backgrounds to engage with farming, fired up volunteerism and outcomebased accountability. 

And, ensuring that the leadership plays its full role in leading and making things happen by example, volunteer work started with all local government unit chief of offices, other regular employees and job hires, putting in unpaid work hours in AgriHope. 

With the flames of volunteerism burning bright, other workers clocked in that translated to work accomplishments. Everyone seemed to want to feel a connection to the land: Punong Barangays of all twenty five barangays, all elected and appointed officials of Bgy. Sta. Cruz, Philippine National Police personnel, Bureau of Fire Protection staff, appointed officials from other barangays, youth organizations like Farm Young, non-government organizations and other volunteer groups within and outside Barcelona.

The local community, including locally stranded individuals (LSIs), helped out through their engagement in the DOLE-Tupad program and through temporary employment, with fixed days and task-based arrangement, under the local government unit’s cash-for-work local governance model supporting livelihood and food security.
As farmers know it, all seeds need good soil and tending to grow. Farmers just do not scatter them and hope for the best. The local government unit operates along this thought pattern.
To grow, tend and optimize AgriHope, and for lasting good to sprout and blossom from it, AgriHope is properly institutionalized.
Meriting the assent of the Municipal Development Council en masse, after its Chair, the local chief executive, made a case for AgriHope, and with the local legislature voting unanimously, funding is appropriated in the annual performance budget dedicated for AgriHope’s development, upkeep and optimization.

For this priority development program, financing comes from the local government unit’s mandatory development fund in the minimum amount of twenty percent of the national tax allocation. 

Out-sourcing of more funds is a vehicle most welcome as well

Transformation of AgriHope happened, including site development that utilized concrete blocks produced by the local government unit Material
Recovery Facility that is functional in its closed dumpsite in another upland barangay.

AgriHope created employment. A farm manager and ten other farm workers earn their keep from there.

Sheena Baroga, the farm manager, said that “AgriHope is a big help in many ways. One is that it gave work to many and helps families.” Construction and installation of physical structures and facilities followed suit, entailing hard work and commitment on the part of the local government unit and, at times, pushing to the limits the exhaustible resource called patience.

In hindsight though, it appears like those physical structures and facilities mushroomed in but a wink of an eye.

Among those constructed and installed are delineated boundaries and concrete fences; lighting layout and lighting fixtures; water system from a nearby spring; plant nursery and a greenhouse for young plants and saplings and fruit toddlers equipped with horticulture requirements such as plant seeds, soil mix, fertilizers, and garden tools; staff house and equipment room that has improved from a nipa hut to a building made of strong materials; signage systems that support education, marketing and promotion efforts; genderized comfort rooms; animal shelter; shed for worm composting or vermicomposting with vermi beds; chicken coop; pili tree house; reception hall; dining hall and kitchen; and learning site with toilet and bath and outdoor kitchen.

The provincial local government unit financed the construction of the reception hall and dining hall and kitchen. 

Alongside those constructions, earth planting of vegetable and flowering plants, fruit trees, and other edible plants is undertaken.  

Although there is sufficient land space, container planting is done just
the same.

All sorts of plant species and vegetables dominate AgriHope. But the thing with planting is that some plants are seasonal. There are those produced for summertime and production is stopped when rainy season sets in. 

All those cumulative sequence of works and activities proved to be value adding that’s why, in no time, AgriHope called attention to itself. 

The Department of Tourism, Regional Office 5 took notice, so that it sent a team of validators to AgriHope. The ocular inspection of the farm site paid particular attention to tourism elements like road network, distance, and transportation. Whereas the rest of the validation zeroed in on the existence and availability of physical structures, facilities, signage systems, flora and fauna population, and AgriHope’s state of compliance with government regulatory requirements. 

Meeting Department of Tourism standards, AgriHope’s accreditation as a tourism farm site by that national government agency came without delay in September, 2019.

That Department of Tourism accreditation has a fixed life time, such that AgriHope is a textbook case of a work in progress, WIP. There is continual improvement, making AgriHope better than it already is.

In October, 2021, and after Department of Tourism’s succeeding trip to AgriHope, it gained renewed accreditation as a tourism farm site from that national government agency. 

Home concoction of organic fertilizers and organic food products like blue ternate tea and cassava chiffon cake by AgriHope’s farm workers are available for patrons.

Agrihope’s tourist arrivals who had authentic farm experience included school children, Yes-O campers16 and educators, wedding entourages, children celebrations, DepEd’s benchmarking delegation from Region 1 composed of school district supervisors, and other domestic tourists. 

Social media accounts disclose that AgriHope is in the bucket list of tourists. 

To not lose that drive forward momentum, local government unit’s parallel efforts included creating alternative venue for outdoor adventures through the installation of a view deck in the neighboring Brgy. San Ramon, with tourism access road connecting Barcelona and the municipality of Bulusan. LGSF-AM in the amount of 11,897,000.00 and LGSF-FALGU of 4M went to that tourism road. 

Impactful as AgriHope has become, the local government unit did not stop there.  

Inspired, and secure in the thought that AgriHope as a tourism farm site is a new-paved path to Barcelona’s upward trajectory in economic development, the local government unit put the pedal to the metal— strategizing with substance and with as much speed and effort as possible.

Because the products and services that AgriHope offers center on agrifood and beverages, primary agritourism and agri-recreation, these undertakings are filled with labor-intensive activities such as pruning, weeding, irrigating, applying fertilizers, planting, feeding livestock, [food and beverage] menu planning and preparation, and care for the elements on the farm.


Thinking long-term, AgriHope should have availability of skilled and experienced labor, possibly full time, to ensure proper maintenance and
sustained production. 

But recognizing that fewer young people grow up around farms notwithstanding the rural environ, the local government unit thought it wise to elevate AgriHope into a platform, an instrument to cultivate the seed of farm curiosity in them. Bring agriculture and farming, bring AgriHope, to young people—and, inclusively, to the unyoung as well. 

Considering that AgriHope is an established farm, operating successfully by practicing agricultural technologies and using doable farming approaches, it is worthy of emulation.

Hence, the local government unit pursued AgriHope’s accreditation as a learning site for agriculture by the Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Training Institute. It hurdled eight steps, namely: 1) identification or submission of letter of intent, 2) orientation of local government unit and AgriHope by the Agricultural Training Institute, 3) filling up of farm profile form specifying therein the aspects of the farm and kind of information it can offer to potential trainees, 4) field validation by Agricultural Training Institute, 5) acceptance by the local government unit and signing of acceptance form, 6) development plan formulation to tailor-fit AgriHope as learning site for agriculture, 7) memorandum of agreement signing, and 8) receipt of learning site for agriculture certificate from Agricultural Training Institute.


In March, 2022, after field validation, Agricultural Training Institute issued AgriHope a certificate of accreditation as a learning site for agriculture

With an in-house agricultural technologist and a local government unitpaid farm consultant, who is a Department of Education authorized-Grade 12 Agricop teacher at Barcelona National Comprehensive High School,17 plus guest lecturers from national government agencies like the Department of
Science and Technology, students, aspiring young farmers [as well as unyoung farmers] benefit from AgriHope’s tutelage.


A senior high school student who completed training there said that “they became more focused, and their skills and creativity were enhanced
because they’re allowed to explore inside the farm” In pursuit of optimization, in the name of good local governance, and because AgriHope is an Agricultural Training Institute learning site for agriculture, it became eligible for accreditation as Technical Education and Skills Development Authority farm school.

Technical Education and Skills Development Authority provincial office conducted its own field validation.

In June, 2022, AgriHope raised itself yet another notch higher into a Technical Education and Skills Development Authority farm school, the only farm school in the second district of Sorsogon. 

The local government unit and the Sorsogon State University have a subsisting memorandum of agreement whereby agriculture students complete their on the job training in AgriHope.

To relate theoretical with practical inputs, Barcelona National Comprehensive High School senior high school students also do work
immersion in AgriHope. Their transportation cost is for the account of the local government unit.

The Public School District Supervisor18 overseeing Barcelona Comprehensive High School is full of praise and gratitude for this innovation.


Her words:

“To increase resilience among learners, outdoor learning is encouraged. But there are limitations in open spaces dedicated for the purpose. It is a problem for us. AgriHope closes this gap. We are thankful that the LGU, which is our best and biggest stakeholder, offered us this outdoor space. Travel cost to Agrihope is also shouldered by LGU. We cannot thank you enough. It is now easy for us to promote to parents and implement outdoor learning. Thank you very much Mayor.”

Technical Education and Skills Development Authority trainings in organic farming are lined up, with trainees from other municipalities in the second district like Sta. Magdalena.

A banana and coconut farmer from another barangay, who hopes to augment his livelihood, participated in AgriHope-DOST training in banana vinegar making and banana ketchup. He is pleasantly surprised to see that AgriHope has turned into a beautiful place. 

He said in the vernacular:

“Magayonon na ngay-a ini na lugar. Pasalamat kami na mayon sin treyning para sa amo na mga paraoma na inhihimo dine. Ini danon sa amo pagbuhay.”

These institutional alliances address sustainability of AgriHope’s processes and activities. 

The local legislature similarly fosters the sustainability of Agrihope by enacting Sangguniang Bayan Ordinance No. 2022- entitled “Recognizing AgriHope situated in Brgy. Sta. Cruz, Barcelona, Sorsogon as a Tourism Farm Site, a Learning Site for Agriculture and a Farm School and Providing Funds Therefor”.

PROJECT DESCRIPTION

The imperatives of reinvention and repurposing of the land that became AgriHope included thorough clean-up of the noisome bushland that it was; crafting and execution of site development plan, creation of organizational structure, hiring and allocating funds; trainings and capacity development; fund sourcing and outsourcing; compliance with national government’s regulations and standards; forging alliances with government functionaries; sustainability and insulation from politics, that is, continued functionality beyond the tenure of [political] leadership.

Giving flesh to its formulated vision and mission to build up people upskilling them, highlighting livelihood, agriculture and tourism, the local government unit set its heart and mind on reinventing and repurposing, within the tenure of the political leadership, that local government unit-owned bushland that became AgriHope. It went by fusing activities relating to tourism, education, agriculture and farming, in conformance to national standards and, without forgetting sustainability.

Adhering to staggered approach to development, all indicators for achieving a Department of Tourism accreditation of a tourism farm site were complied — from farm size, distance from [secondary] highway, facilities and amenities, flora and fauna population, farm tools, implement and equipment, signage systems, staffing pattern with qualification standards, work description and proper farm wear, cleanliness and safety protocol.

While operating as a Department of Tourism accredited tourism farm site, added facilities were incorporated to meet the standards of the Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Training Institute as a learning site for agriculture then, as a Technical Educational and Skills Development Authority farm school.

AgriHope is embodied in the local government unit annual investment plan hence is properly funded under its annual performance budget.

Agrihope’s conversion into an Agricultural Training Institute learning site for agriculture and a Technical Educational and Skills Development Authority farm school, formalized alliances with educational institutions like the Sorsogon State University thus, strengthening technical-vocational education
delivering service in the form of assistance to students and farmers by improving their skills.

This accomplished objective radiates a glimmer of hope given the diminishing number of farmers.

IMPLEMENTATION PROCEDURES

How the local government unit got AgriHope there, to where it is now, entailed resources, including aesthetic intelligence and internal and external processes to foster delightful and impactful experience in the farm, in the space of tourism, education, and agriculture and farming. 

The local government unit worked on farm clean-up, [initially, through volunteerism and communal industry]; farm design, branding and development plan and its execution in phases; flora and fauna population and farm operation; facilities and amenities and their maintenance utilizing local funds and funds outsourced from the higher provincial local government unit; compliance with government regulations; forging collaborative alliances; products and promotion and marketing.

PROJECT RESULT/IMPACT

Buttressed by evidence, the communal experience that birthed AgriHope, added value to all chief stakeholders: the community, the town and its townspeople, the local government unit and its leadership, institutional collaborators, and other development partners.

Major impact include the following: farm produce shared to communities during the pandemic, jobs created to fulfill organizational requirements; employment generated under local government unit’s cash-for-work model; income generated from sales of farm produce, and products and uptick in tourist arrivals and fees collection, all fueled local economic growth—27% average growth in locally sourced income per recent Department of FinanceBureau of Local Government Finance data; priceless human connections established concomitant to volunteerism; upgrade from a tourism farm site to a learning site for agriculture to a farm school, that served both students, teachers, parents, aspiring farmers and farmers by profession; students and benefactors spent lesser in transportation and accommodation costs; immense rise in dignity and community pride of AgriHope’s home barangay, Brgy. Sta. Cruz, and its people; sustained trust in local governance that delivers measured outcomes. These and more are solid testament of development results reflective of
compassionate and competent leadership. 

In a gathering of all local government unit’s employees hosted in AgriHope, Barcelona Mayor Cynthia Falcotelo-Fortes said it well:

“Despite its humble beginnings, AgriHope has amounted to something big.”

“Worthy of note, because of its wellbeing impact, is that at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, and in the implementation of the Enhance Community Quarantine Market by the local government unit, where food coupons worth Php500.00 were handed to each family, AgriHope played a part as a source of vegetables and chicken eggs. Using that food coupon in the ECQ Market, families shopped for free food of their choice. Their happy faces eloquently tell that the experience is one elevating moment in their lives amidst the pandemic.”

“We have seen and felt the benefits that AgriHope can bring. Let us hold this farm, this school, dearly.” 

The provincial local government unit used to be invested in AgriHope so that said higher local government unit funded the construction of two buildings —the reception hall and dining hall—and the water system.

It allocated more for front ground enhancement and farm security but the change in provincial leadership in July 2022 defunded AgriHope in the amount of Php2,000,000.00.

The national government on the one hand downloaded LGSF-AM and LGSF-FALGU funds for tourism road from AgriHope to the next tourism spot and agricultural development site in the adjacent barangay of San Ramon. Both infrastructure development projects have been fully implemented.

On the whole, with the values and behaviors of the local government unit shining through, AgriHope’s functionality, with its recorded tangible and intangible accomplishments, call attention to themselves that they are inescapable to not sustain them: invest time, funds, more impactful collaborations into them for future successes—in building up people heightening livelihood, tourism and agriculture.

AgriHope is hope personified. 

 August, 2022. Barcelona, Sorsogon, Philippines.