Erle Frayne D. Argonza
[Writ 07 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Writer was former Livelihood Coordinator of the Ministry of Human Settlements, PAC Gonzaga, from July 1981-June 1982. In Jan. 82 he was designated Acting Deputy Provincial Manager, concurrent with the livelihood post.]
Let me go through with my continuing journey as a young development professional, and transport you this time to the town of coastal town of Ballesteros in Cagayan. This town is famous for its crustaceans, notably crabs and lobsters. Let me stress here that the crabs and lobsters were huge by size compared to the ordinary, making them worth writing.
In the last quarter of 1982 my agency then, the MHS, finally recruited, trained and deployed Municipal Staff Assistants or MSAs. It was a great relief to acquire the “new kids on the block”, as it lifted so many burdens from us provincial staff, both technical and communicative (information dissemination of the KKK). From Ballesteros came this lanky young male staff (name now escapes my memory), with long ‘babalo’ chin. He was a no mean staff, to recall.
Mr. Bubbles (that’s how I jokingly call ‘babalo’ long chin folks) brought to my attention right away the huge potentiality of expanding crustacean production in his town. Unfazed by his rather dynamic explanation, who was almost gyrating like Elvis Presley during his presentation, I arranged for some consultations with fish farmers there (crustacean producers who operated onshore) as well as municipal fishers (who operated offshore). I simply wished to verify what my staff had reported to me then.
I found out that my staff did presented information in as truthful a manner as possible, verifying every millimeter of his report to the dot. I then arranged a visitation to the coastal area to see for myself what things were in there. To my own shock (I do get this feeling in the field at times), I realized that their ‘gears’ for fish farming was appallingly primitive (hmmm this is what I got for being an acculturated Big City boy in Manila: culture shock at local life). They used guava twigs that were planted below the sea level, after which the fish farmers would pick them up, with the ‘victims’ riding on the twigs.
As usual, my team’s task was to conceptualize what innovation to introduce there. That’s why our job is called ‘development’. To recoup from my initial shock (I really had to criticize myself silently), I quickly arranged for consultations with the technical staff of the BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources) who became our constant partners in the area (they were so elated at our arrival there), as well as the professors of the Cagayan State University (CSU) –Gonzaga branch (agriculture & fisheries campus). From the consultations and research of my staff, we pieced up information about the techno-component that would be simple to operate and utilize local resources for inputs.
Since we already had municipal fishing with bagoong making in Gonzaga, my team, with the nod of our BFAR partners, decided to focus crustacean fish farming in Ballesteros. So we had this double task of convincing the municipal fishers in the town to sideline as fish farmers if they wish to benefit from the KKK enterprise finance program there.
Our simple innovation introduced to them was the ‘fish cage’, or ‘crustacean trap’. It was made of wooden and tree branches, with grill-fashioned openings to let the smaller crabs & lobsters get in, where they’d stay and feed. As soon as they grew in size, it was difficult for them to go out if at all (experiments have shown they don’t go out as they acclimatize to the domicile). Simple indeed, but so sensible as it increased the yield of the marine farmers.
We also had to convince the fish farmers to apply as individual proponents. The parameters in the area were different from that of neighbor Gonzaga where offshore fishing was the primary engagement. It was more fruitful if each individual would work on his ‘crustacean yard’ (by the sea), though collectively they would have to secure the area together (there are always thieves everywhere, remember).
Project approval was fast for this one. I don’t recall now the exact figures per project. But my recall is sharp regarding the approval, financing, re-training of fish farmers, take-off, and the most important: taste of the final result. The lobsters and crabs using the traps were even larger than the previous pre-trap days! I’m sure you’d agree with me that these crustaceans warm up the heart and brighten your day when you see, feel and taste them.