How a Red Lady made a woman smile


THINK BACK to when you were teenager. What were you do­ing? Maybe study­ing in col­lege, just start­ing to fig­ure life out? Yet by the time she was nine­teen, Lita Son­dia was al­ready dream­ing of a time when her fam­ily and friends would no longer be hun­gry.

Son­dia is a ca­reer politi­cian in what would seem to be the un­like­li­est of places: tucked away in a tiny bar­rio in the hills of Sta. Bar­bara, Iloilo. Now 42, she is mar­ried to Nestor Son­dia, 50; they have five chil­dren. She is cur­rently the barangay ka­gawad (coun­cilor) com­mit­tee chair for Women and Chil­dren. She is also the pres­i­dent of the Farmer’s Fed­er­a­tion P4MP Sta. Bar­bara, and the sec­re­tary for the Farmer’s Fed­er­a­tion of Barangay Guno As­so­ci­a­tion.

This vi­brant, en­er­getic woman’s eyes sparkle as she talks about how she wants to up­lift her com­mu­nity from poverty. Her shirt boldly pro­claims “Free Hugs! (And a kiss if you’re lucky).” Yet, she shies away from the cam­era, as she has a strong sense of mod­esty.

Son­dia firmly be­lieves that true change can­not be achieved un­less you your­self are wor­thy of it. See­ing pol­i­tics as the best chance for reach­ing her dreams, she first ran for barangay ka­gawad at the age of nine­teen. She won, and be­came the sole mem­ber of the As­sis­tant Com­mit­tee on Agri­cul­ture. Her dream, then and now, is to unite her lo­cal com­mu­nity of farm­ers and de­velop them into pro­fes­sional sup­pli­ers of veg­eta­bles to Sta. Bar­bara.

Yet life never goes the way it’s planned. De­spite her best ef­forts, lit­tle has changed in her sleepy bar­rio since she started 23 years ago. Only re­cently was she able to or­ga­nize the Farmer’s Fed­er­a­tion of Sta. Bar­bara in hopes that hav­ing a pro­fes­sional as­so­ci­a­tion would gal­va­nize her com­mu­nity into ac­tion. With only 31 farmer-mem­bers, how­ever, their or­ga­ni­za­tion is still far too small to ef­fect any real change.

None­the­less, she re­mains the Fed­er­a­tion’s most ac­tive mem­ber. True change, she re­it­er­ates, can­not be achieved un­less you your­self are wor­thy of it. She hopes that her ef­forts will serve as a model for her fel­low farm­ers and per­haps in­flu­ence more farm­ers to join them in the fu­ture.

Son­dia planned to de­velop sweet corn as the Fed­er­a­tion’s first prod­uct. As a ka­gawad, she knew she could start by sell­ing sweet corn to her fel­low pub­lic ser­vants. More than that, sweet corn is easy to grow and needs few re­sources to main­tain. She quickly re­al­ized, how­ever, that sweet corn was not as prac­ti­cal as she ini­tially thought. A high vol­ume of yield was needed for it to be prof­itable, as the in­di­vid­ual price of corn was not very high. To do that, a large area of land was re­quired—land she did not have, and even if she did, she would not be able to main­tain it by her­self.

Un­sure on how to pro­ceed, she ap­proached Al­lan Umad­jay, a friend of hers work­ing as an agri­cul­tural tech­ni­cian in the

DA-Re­gion VI Of­fice. He im­me­di­ately sug­gested Red Lady pa­paya as an al­ter­na­tive crop. She learned from him that Red Lady was a low main­te­nance crop, only need­ing fer­til­iza­tion once or twice a month, de­pend­ing on how well it was grow­ing. It could be har­vested for a very long time af­ter its first fruit­ing, pro­vid­ing a cer­tain sta­bil­ity to the in­come she could re­ceive from the sale of her pro­duce. Since no one else she knew of was plant­ing Red Lady in Sta. Bar­bara, her prod­uct would be unique and she would be able to get a bet­ter in­come from it.

Filled with ex­cite­ment, she met with Per­ci­val Barsal Jr. a tech­ni­cian from Known-You Seed Philip­pines, Inc., and bought 2 grams (g) of seeds to try out. She half-jok­ingly re­marked that she would wake up at 4 AM and in­stead of pre­par­ing break­fast for her fam­ily, she would first run to her field and check her grow­ing pa­paya trees un­der the mea­ger light of her cell­phone. Then she could re­turn home to start cook­ing with­out wor­ries.

As her Red Lady was planted at the foot of a hill, the gen­tle slope meant that wa­ter would run off while she was ir­ri­gat­ing. She planted her trees par­al­lel to the hill­side and dug deeper canals be­tween high-mounded plots to trap the wa­ter be­tween them. Thank­fully, her soil is loamy and ex­cel­lent at re­tain­ing mois­ture. She cov­ered the plots with plas­tic mulch to pre­vent soil ero­sion and mois­ture evap­o­ra­tion. It has been four months since she started her Red Lady project and al­ready, the trees are heavy with fruit. She re­cently har­vested her first batch: 52 kilo­grams (kg) of pa­paya from her lit­tle 50 square me­ter plot. Her fel­low pub­lic ser­vants im­me­di­ately snapped ev­ery­thing up as they had never seen this kind of red, thick-fleshed pa­paya be­fore, and the juicy sweet­ness of Red Lady made them hun­gry for more. Son­dia sold her en­tire har­vest for R25/ kg, and re­grets she didn’t sell for a higher price. “If I knew my friends and col­leagues would be will­ing to buy [Red Lady at] R25, I would have sold it for R35/ kg!” she laughs. True to her word, she is sell­ing her next har­vest for R35/ kg.

But what truly makes her hap­pi­est is that her fel­low farm­ers have started ap­proach­ing her about Red Lady. Many of them were sur­prised to see that the crop could be grown in their ar­eas now planted to kamote (sweet po­tato) and monggo (mung bean). She has started plant­ing seedlings as her fel­low farm­ers have asked if they could buy these from her, and she is more than ready to share what she has learned. Af­ter all, it has been 23 years.

She firmly be­lieves that Red Lady Pa­paya is the break she has been wait­ing for. We will fol­low her story as she con­tin­ues on the road to her dream, and per­haps in the fu­ture, we will be able to present to you the story of her suc­cess.

Red Lady Pa­paya is a prod­uct of KnownYou Seed Philip­pines, Inc. and has been dis­trib­uted in the Philip­pines for the past 18 years by Harbest Agribusi­ness Corp. For in­quiries and or­ders, call 0917.3201689 or 0999.9680630, fax (075) 632.1785, email, or visit www.face­

Though sur­pris­ingly cam­era-shy de­spite her out­go­ing na­ture, Lita Son­dia is nev­er­the­less ex­tremely proud of her Red Lady pa­payas. Her small 50 square me­ter plot pro­duced 52 kg for her first har­vest. If she had planted the crop to a hectare, she would have pro­duced a lit­tle over 10 tons of pa­paya.

When asked if she has any ad­vice for other first time Red Lady grow­ers, Son­dia laughs, say­ing, “Just en­joy what you do. The ful­fill­ment of your achieve­ment is worth more than all the work and hard­ship you put into plant­ing Red Lady.”

Son­dia is grate­ful for the guid­ance she re­ceived from Known-You Seed. Here she shows her new batch of Red Lady seedlings, which are be­ing pre­pared for sale to her fel­low farm­ers. With her are the mem­bers of the Known-You Seed West­ern Visayas Branch, from left: Wel­lie Sagliba, Bonny De­seo, Per­ci­val Barsal Jr., and Frexon Bu­talon.

Son­dia says she would not have got­ten this far wi­hout the sup­port of her fel­low pub­lic ser­vants. Here she is with barangay cap­tain Gre­ce­ria Reyes of Brgy. Guno, Sta. Bar­bara. She hopes her ef­forts will serve as model for her fel­low farm­ers and that her fel­low pub­lic ser­vants may be in­spired to do the same.

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