AGRI-KAPIHAN STORY: A non-organization that worked wonders. I had a selfish but noble motive!

Pio Rodriguez talking about his biogas digester at the Agri-Kapihan.

IN AUGUST 1986, we started the Agri-Kapihan for our own “selfish” but noble reason. For more than 30 years it had worked fine in helping spread practical farming and gardening techniques to whoever is interested in these pursuits. This was the free forum that was held every Saturday at the defunct Manila Seedling Bank in Quezon City.

OUR MOTIVE – What was our selfish reason? Well, at that time we were asked to take charge of the Agriculture Page of the newly revived Manila Times which was then edited by our friend Ben Afuang. We thought that if we were to handle the Agriculture Section, we should be able to meet people who are engaged in farming as well as those who are aspiring to become farmers and/or gardeners.

A MEANS TO MEET REAL FARMERS – That way, we will be able to write about the experiences of hands-on farmers, the research activities of agricultural scientists, the products of suppliers of agricultural inputs and services. In other words, we would  be able to meet all the stakeholders in agriculture. And we would be able to write practical stories that are helpful to our target audience.

WEEKEND FARMERS ASSOCIATION – We floated the idea of a Weekend Farmers’ Association in our initial issue of the agriclture section. One of the suggestions came from the late Ben M. Domingo, one of the founders of East-West Seed Company. Instead of a Weekend Farmers Association, he suggested a weekly Agri-Kapihan, a forum where resource persons can conduct lectures and demonstrations. It could also be a forum where the farmers can talk about their own experiences, the challenges they faced as well as the triumphs achieved.

FIRST SESSION – For the first session, we requested the management of the Aristocrat Restaurant on Quezon Avenue near EDSA in Quezon City for the use  of their place as venue. They did not charge us anything and if they did, we would not have the fund to pay for the use of the place. We told the management that perhaps the attendees would be taking their meals and that would be their compensation. Which they appreciated.

THE RESTO WAS TOO SMALL – And so, the first session was held on August 2, 1986. We announced that in our column and you how many attended? The restaurant could not accommodate all the attendees. Ramon Mitra, then Minister of the Department of Agriculture, brought his staff with him. And so many other aficionados came to the forum. 

ON TO THE SEEDLING BANK – Because the Aristocrat Restaurant was too small for the gathering, we talked to Chito Bertol of the then Manila Seedling Bank who gave us the seed-sowing barn as venue. So many again attended the second session, some of them bringing their own chairs. Then there were volunteers who contributed benches for the attendees.

THE CONCEPT – We explained the concept to the attendees, saying that the Agri-Kapihan is a non-organization. There is no membership fee to become a member of the group. Therefore, there are no funds to keep. That way, there is no money to quarrel about. There are also no officers. So there are no elections. Anyone can enter the session anytime and get out anytime he wishes.

PAY FOR WHAT YOU EAT – There was a caterer to serve breakfast. But whoever wanted to eat had to pay what he ordered. No sponsors. That was very clear and the attendees loved that.

SPEAKERS NOT PAID – We did not pay the speakers who lectured on various topics. They did not mind at all. They were just too willing to share their know-how without expecting any payment. And there were more offers to give lectures than could be accommodated in one session from 8 a.m. to 12 noon.

OLD FRIENDS AND NEW ACQUAINTANCES – The Agri-Kapihan was where long lost friends were brought together and where new friends were made. The Agri-Kapihan worked wonders even without any funds of its own. We will tell you next time about interesting people who attended the Agri-Kapihan.


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