JARO, Leyte -- Farming transformed a poor and rebel-infested village into one of the most progressive upland communities in Leyte province.

Villaconzoilo village chief Alex Aborita has attributed the significant economic gains to the compact farming program introduced by the Provincial Government in 2011.

“Before 2011, I think nobody wanted to be a village official here because of so many problems we faced -- poverty, malnutrition, school dropouts, and insurgency. In seven years, the cultivation of high-value crops changed our lives,” Aborita said in an interview on April 16.

The village is the pilot site for integrated and diversified organic farming approach, an initiative that has already expanded to more than 100 villages last year.

The village is the only area in the province that achieved zero malnutrition since last year.

Higher income of families reduces the number of Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) beneficiaries from 96 households in 2011 to only seven households this year.

“Actually, my family was a beneficiary of 4Ps in the past, but after the Provincial Government implemented the farming program, our economic status has improved until we graduated from the anti-poverty program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD),” Aborita said.

“These positive changes are the result of higher purchasing power of residents as they already earn the fruits of their labors,” he added.

From the start-up capital of P1,800 contributed by members, the Villaconzoilo Community Association’s (VCA) asset increased to more than P25 million with more than P4 million cash in bank.

The group owns 20 hectares of land for their high value crops, fruit bearing trees plantation, piggery and egg production.

From producing high-value crops and supplying their products to big groceries, hotels and malls in Tacloban City and other parts of Leyte province, Villaconzoilo expanded their operation to farm-tourism in 2016, generating additional income from entrance fee.

Aborita said their village welcomes an average of 2,000 visitors every month to observe and learn farming practices. Each visitor pays P50 as entrance fee.

Aside from accepting tourist to their farm, the organization also runs a school for practical farming accredited by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda).

Since 2017, the organization has trained about 500 individuals, mostly Tesda scholars.

In 2016, Aborita was named as best farmer under the Agriculture Initiatives category by the non-profit organization Tofarm's search for outstanding farmers in the country.

The Villaconzoilo Community Association received a P100,000 check. (PNA)