This post is part of our Humans of LWR series, which seeks to provide a glimpse into the lives of the various people who take part in our mission of ending poverty, injustice and human suffering.
Reynaldo Gazo’s nickname ‘Rey’ truly suits him. It may sound cheesy, but he really is a ray of sunshine to everyone he meets. Within moments of meeting Rey, he’ll flash you his high beam smile and usually crack a joke. You’ll want to keep the rapport going, and you’ll probably have the time since meeting Rey usually means you’re going on a long road trip with LWR in the Philippines.
Rey has been LWR’s driver on the Philippines’ southernmost island of Mindanao for three years. He joined LWR after adventurous careers in seafaring and gold mining and a slightly less dangerous career in sales. Unsurprisingly, he has some great stories to tell on the road. One of his best stories though is the one about how he became a farmer while driving for LWR.
Part of Rey’s job is to drive LWR staff to and from projects way out in remote rural communities all over Mindanao. After driving several hours straight through traffic and precarious mountain passes, you would think Rey would kick back and relax while his colleagues go about their work with the farmers in the project, but he doesn’t. Instead, he chooses to engage the farmers and learn good agricultural practices and specific cacao production techniques alongside them.
When Rey’s father passed down the 7.5 acre family farm to him and his six older siblings, they intended to simply continue cultivating the rice and coconut already planted on the farm. Rice and coconut are typical cash crops grown in the area but are not particularly big income earners for small scale farmers. After some time watching LWR work with coconut farmers to diversify their crops with cacao and banana, Rey brought his siblings together and proposed they do the same. The siblings pooled some funds, and Rey bought 300 cacao seedlings from one of the cacao nurseries established through LWR’s project to get them started.
Through his participation in project visits and consultations with LWR’s local partner experts, Rey learned how to successfully graft seedlings to propagate, or grow, more cacao trees. As a test of his newly acquired skills – and perhaps with a dose of some sibling rivalry – Rey grafted 10 seedlings and his brother grafted another 10. Eight out of Rey’s 10 grafted seedlings survived while all of the brother’s seedlings died. From that point on, the family designated him the official seedling grafter, and from that initial 300 seedlings, they now have propagated and planted 1,000 seedlings. They’re currently waiting until the seedlings have matured two years before they begin harvesting the cacao.
Rey also learned that banana trees grow faster than cacao trees and can provide the additional shade cacao trees need to flourish, so the family started planting banana around their cacao and under their coconut trees. They’ve sold 100 kilos of banana so far and have been getting 5 pesos locally and 15 pesos in Davao (city) per kilo. This provides income to one of the brothers, who lives on the farm fulltime and has no other means of livelihood. In order to help this brother transport produce to market, Rey and one of his other brothers chipped in to make a down payment on a motorbike for him. He now is able to continue making payments on the bike from the farm’s proceeds.
Rey says that the farm now provides for most of the family’s consumption needs (they also raise chickens) and especially saves them money on rice, which they no longer have to buy. When the time comes to harvest their cacao, the siblings expect the farm will become a strong source of additional income for them and their families as well. Thinking back on the amount they all had accomplished in such a short span of time, Rey told me he had to wipe tears from his eyes. He said “Big guys don’t cry.”
His brother asked, lightly poking fun at Rey’s height, “Are you a big guy?”
Rey answered with his megawatt smile, “I’m a small guy, but I have a big heart.”