SEARCA turned over seeds, fertilizer, and other farm inputs to the three aster farmers (seated) involved in the project during the launch on 7 October 2020. LOS BAÑOS, Philippines – Aster growers in Los Baños, Laguna will benefit from a new community gardens project launched by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) on 7 October 2020. SEARCA will establish community gardens in Barangay Bayog, Los Baños, where most of the town’s aster farms are located, to enable the flower farmers to grow good-quality food for their consumption and as an alternative source of income now that there is little demand for aster because of the COVID-19 pandemic. SEARCA Director Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio explained that during the stricter nationwide quarantine, the flower markets they supplied were forced to shut down. Moreover, the pandemic drove people to buy only the necessities and forgo other commodities like flowers. SEARCA Director Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio (left) said welcomed the farmer-beneficiaries as well as local government officials and representatives of other organizations supporting the Bayog community that SEARCA is assisting. “As a post-crisis strategy, the project will be piloted on three farm lots sized 3,800 sq.m., 2,800 sq.m., and 2,000 sq.m. with a grant provided through the SEARCA Grants for Research towards Agricultural Innovative Solutions (GRAINS),” said Dr. Rico C. Ancog, who leads the SEARCA Emerging Innovation for Growth Program that administers GRAINS. The farmers involved in the project are Mr. Marcelino Aragon, Mr. Gerardo Banasihan, and Mr. Salvador Tordacilla. “SEARCA will also provide technical support in terms of land and site preparation, planning the community garden design, and setting up and monitoring of the community garden,” Dr. Ancog said. Dr. Rico C. Ancog, who leads SEARCA’s Emerging Innovation for Growth Program, said SEARCA sees the need to embark on initiatives that address the needs of farmers on the ground and that this project is one way that SEARCA can support farmers who were badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. During the launch, SEARCA turned over seeds, fertilizer, and other farm inputs to the three farmers who own and manage the farm lot. On behalf of his fellow aster farmers, Mr. Aragon thanked SEARCA and its partners for their assistance through the community garden project and the local government officials for their support. Mr. Marcelino Aragon gave a response on behalf of his fellow farmers Mr. Gerardo Banasihan and Mr. Salvador Tordacilla, thanking SEARCA and its partners for their assistance through the project and the local government officials for their support. Dr. Gregorio affirmed that SEARCA is excited to work directly with farmers in this project to assist them with the needed inputs and introduce new technologies. He said this is very much aligned to SEARCA’s 11th Five-Year Plan focused on Accelerating Transformation Through Agricultural Innovation (ATTAIN). Also present at the launch were Ms. Cristina Sison, volunteer liaison for Health Assistance and Network Development (HAND)-Philippines, and Ms. Myla Gregorio of L.A.T.C.H. Inc., a non-profit organization that offers lactation education and breastfeeding counseling services, whose organizations are also providing assistance to the same Bayog community to address nutrition security and health care. Ms. Cristina Sison of HAND Philippines talked about her organization’s advocacy and how they would like to help the Bayog aster farming families being assisted by SEARCA. Local government officials led by Los Baños Mayor Cesar Perez also joined the launch to express their support to this SEARCA project. With him were Los Baños Councilor Miko Pelegrina and Bayog Barangay Chairman Joben Manarpaac. Led by Mayor Cesar Perez (top), the Los Baños local government also showed its support to the project during the launch. With him were Los Baños Councilor Miko Pelegrina (center) and Bayog Barangay Chairman Joben Manarpaac (bottom).