“Although accepted na ang mga babae sa agriculture, yung representation namin ay hindi pa masyadong nakikita. Yun ang pwede pa nating ma-improve. Bigyan natin ang mga kababaihan ng pagkakataon na maglead sa AFCs.”

This became the number one advocacy of Bicol Regional Agricultural and Fishery Council (RAFC) Chairperson Bernadette “Bidibidi” Delos Santos upon joining RAFC in 2007.

In the Lakbay Panayam of the Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF) in Bicol in August 2022, Delos Santos shared how she weaved her way into the male-dominated sector of agriculture and succeeded in amplifying the voices of women.

“As the years went by, naging bukas na din ang Philippine society for women in agriculture. In fact, sa mga national meetings that I have attended, may mga machines na ngayon na ginagawa na pwede ang babae. Dati kasi talagang mga massive na tractors lang ang meron”, she said.

Delos Santos believes that these interventions originated from the inputs of women during consultations and dialogues in the AFCs.

Delos Santos started her venture in agriculture after returning from the United States to her hometown in Baao, Camarines Sur to manage their family farm. According to Delos Santos, it was her dream since childhood to have her own farm, a gallery, and a charitable foundation.

She then opened La Huerta de Rosario, a three-hectare Good Agricultural Practices-certified farm in Baao, Camarines Sur. 

Started as an ornamental plant nursery, Delos Santos expanded the farm to cultivate fruits and vegetables including fruit-bearing trees. Soon after, the Department of Agriculture (DA) offered to convert a part of her land as a demo farm for off-season tomato production.

Realizing the idle time in between planting and harvesting season, Delos Santos decided that it was time to kick off her other aspirations.

The Birth of a Social Enterprise

In 2009, Delos Santos founded the Bidibidi Enterprise—a social enterprise that aims to empower out-of-school youth and rural women, especially the wives of farmers. She taught them handicraft skills and provided them jobs of creating upcycled bags from thrifted fabrics and vintage buttons.

After years of developing local talents, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) saw the potential of her enterprise. DSWD offered a partnership contract that entails her to train 150 women on embroidery, 90% of whom are Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program beneficiaries.

When asked what other areas can be improved to capacitate women, Delos Santos mentioned access to capital.

Kasi kahit na turuan mo sila ng skills, kung wala silang capital, yun talaga ang mag-stop sa kanila to improve the lives of their families. Nakakatuwa nga na ngayon, may binibigay na ang ahensya na AgriPinay loan kaya nakaka-access na somehow ang mga kababaihan sa capital”, Delos Santos said.

As the Bicol RAFC Chairperson, Delos Santos also makes sure to support projects involving women.

“We have prioritized women-led cooperatives. Isa na dun yung Bikolana’s Agriculture Cooperative, kung saan nabigyang focus yung kanilang project on black soldier fly. We also encourage women entrepreneurs, involved in agriculture and fisheries, na mag-avail ng tulong galing sa mga programa ng Department of Agriculture,” Delos Santos furthered.

Epitome of a Strong Rural Woman

Pagpasok ko sa RAFC, taasan ang kilay ng mga lalaki kasi ang agriculture is definitely a macho environment. They did not think that I would be serious in my undertaking as a farmer but I proved them wrong when I won the Most Outstanding Rural Women Award in 2008”, Delos Santos said.

Under her leadership, Bicol RAFC passed several policy resolutions for the advancement of the abaca industry such as the crafting of a 10-year development plan and the improvement of the Agricultural Credit Policy Council’s credit window for abaca farmers, weavers, and designers.

They also created a special sectoral committee that will focus on industrializing coconut and pineapple fiber.

To encourage and sustain the active participation among AFCs, she initiated the provision of incentives to high-performing members as well as the strict monitoring of attendance in meetings.

Delos Santos shared that the most fulfilling part of being an AFC leader is seeing DA projects get implemented at the grassroots. Knowing that these projects will benefit the farmers allows her to sleep soundly at night.

Ang nagpapalakas talaga sa akin is knowing that I am representing the farmers and fishers, especially rural women. Kaya ang dream ko para sa Region 5 ay marepresent talaga ang mga kababaihan, magmula sa barangay level”, she imparted.

Currently, Delos Santos focuses all efforts in mobilizing Bicol AFCs down to the barangay level and having their policy resolutions adopted by concerned national government agencies and local government units. | JCL