Interior designer turned farmer talks about his career change
Raffy Dacones becomes the voice of local farming
Living in the city, people tend to fall into routine from commuting to work and getting stuck in traffic to cramming to meet deadlines. Eventually feeling like a miniscule part of a system, not really achieving anything great. Raffy Dacones felt the same way while he was living in Japan. Tired of the city life, he decided to move back home without really having a clear idea of what he was going to do. Little did he know that he would eventually start something that he is now extremely passionate about, Teraoka Family Farm.
Have you always been into farming?
No. I used to live in Tokyo, where I worked for three years at an interior design firm before I got tired of the city. Even if it was wonderful, I got tired of doing the same exact thing, of city life in Tokyo and commuting. I tried to find out what I wanted to do, and decided to come back to the Philippines. It turned out that my family had land in Pangasinan that wasn’t being used. It was a farm with lots of mango trees, but no one was taking care of them. I then realized how farmers make a good living in other countries, especially in Japan, but not here. When I came home, organic farming was just becoming a trend in the Philippines and people were starting to get into organic produce. So I thought, why not start a farm? I took a leap and resigned from my job in Japan so I could get into farming.
I hadn’t expected how hard it was going to be. Considering I had no background whatsoever in agriculture, I had to do a lot of research and ask advice from other people. Everything was pretty much trial and error in the beginning, but it has been two years and I’ve been doing well so far. What
“Farming is like going to school: I learn something new every single day.”
really kept me in farming was the relationship I built with a lot of farmers. They are so simple, very down-to-earth, and they’re the ones who feed us yet city people look down on them. Their work is seen as unprofitable when, the truth is, farming can generate income if you could just find the right market for your produce. Farmers don’t have access to the market, though. We have a lot of organic farmers in the country but no one knows where to find them, so I became their voice. They bring their produce to me and I buy them at a really good price; sometimes, I help them grow their crops as well. I want to remove the middlemen so the farmers can earn enough to continue farming and encourage their families to continue working on their land instead of going to the city.
The Philippines has so much neglected potential in agriculture. We don’t see the importance now of what farmers do, but who is going to feed us in the future? We need to encourage the youth to get into farming as well, given that the average age of farmers here is 57. People think that farming is an industry of the poor, and I want to change that perception.
Take us through a day on your farm.
My farm is 200 hectares big, but only five hectares are used for organic farming. My daily routine consists of waking up early at three or four in the morning, doing all the hard work, then going to sleep at seven in the evening. I like doing the hard work, such as making my own plots. Whenever I’m stressed, I go to the nursery and germinate seeds. Farming is like going to school: I learn something new every single day. There are so many variables, like weather, the climate, and even the people I work with, but I think it’s better to keep on learning than sticking only to what you know.
I’m also in Manila three or four times a week since the market is here, but I want to spend as much time as I can at the farm so I travel back and forth.
Has the local perception of farming improved somewhat since you started working in agriculture yourself?
People are more aware now of organic farming and are more healthconscious. They want to know how their food is grown and where it comes from, so that helps the current movement toward organic agriculture, which the Department of Agriculture is working on. There are also private institutions doing the same thing. Because of the growing awareness, we now see organic sections in the supermarket and small outlets like Healthy Options. But there’s still much to be done: we still don’t grasp how much pesticides and chemicals are used to create perfect-looking produce, and despite the huge potential in the Philippines, organic farming remains mostly that. The demand is there but the supply is scarce.
At 29 years old, what are you bringing to the table?
I’m encouraging the youth to learn or get back into farming. In 50 years, if things don’t change, we won’t have anything to eat. I want to be a role model for the youth, I want to show them that there is money in farming, and that it’s fun; they just have to work hard. I enjoy what I do, so in a way, I want to make the image of farming look cool, too. •
Right: Teraoka Family Farm in Pangasinan
Above: Nursery in Teraoka Family Farm where seedlings are planted