Of the many farmhands that ARGO Farms has hired since 2013, Tia has proven to be one of the most reliable and hardworking and she also happens to be the brightest. I’m proud to say this because she is the only woman on the farm, besides myself. If she had more education, I’d bet she’d be sitting on the front row and I’d be sitting right behind her. She is the de facto foreperson on the farm even though by seniority it should be Peter. Peter however has difficulty asserting himself as an authority figure. While Tia, perhaps because she is seen as a “mother figure” can enforce the “law”. However, in her haste to get things done, she tends to bypass me, which can be annoying and not always because my ego is offended.
There are some decisions that impact others. The permission for absences, for instance. Absenteeism is a big no no in our farm during harvest, an event that could last from two to three weeks. Technically to be efficient ARGO Farms needs over 30 workers. But our coconuts are not as productive as they once were and with the way prices have plummeted sacrifices have to be made. One of those is manpower.
The coconut harvest takes precedence over the many chores at ARGO Farms. And this requires at least seven hands: the magkakanggot (job order status), parapurot (the one who gathers the coconuts and carries them to designated pick up points); paradara sipung (the one who carries the bamboo poles used in harvesting taller coconuts), and the parakangga (the one who manages the carabao sled that transports the coconuts from designated pick-up points to the barracks).
When the coconut-laden sleds get to the barracks Peter immediately dehusks them. Michael helps in the dehusking. Dehusking them as soon as they are picked ensures maximum weight (moisture content decreases the longer coconuts are stored). The heavier the coconuts, the more its value. Depending on the season, our weekly harvest is anywhere from three to four tons. After dehusking the coconuts are sacked, the sacks sewn with plastic twine to seal it (Tia’s job), weighed, and depending on road conditions, transported by carreta to Mulo’s bodega across the main road from our gate. When the dirt road is compact Mulo’s truck can pick up the coconuts, which then don’t have to be sacked but placed in large, woven baskets before weighing. In the past we only produced copra, but selling coconuts whole to Peter Paul Corporation entails less labor expense. And instead of waiting for the harvest to end before the coconuts are dehusked we now turn over our produce on a weekly basis for maximum profitability.
The coconut harvest is our lifeblood. It is our major source of revenue, and given the fact that we are undermanned, it has been our policy to suspend absences at harvest except during emergency situations. But when Tia allows even one farmhand to be absent, then the entire operation suffers a backlog, and at worst comes to a total standstill, which means losing not only income but time. I always tell them that our daily production value must surpass or at least equal our daily wages and expenses. If not, why would we even continue to operate?
I can’t always be at the farm and Tia acts as the conduit between the farmhands and I. When I am not there, we communicate by cell phone. And Tia knows that she has to inform me of any operational glitch that requires immediate solution. If she forgets, or deliberately withholds information, then I won’t be able to resolve it within the day. If the grass cutter conks out, for instance, I need to be informed so I can have it fixed. Even the simplest problem sometimes needs immediate attention. When the key to the bodega lock could not be removed, they had to wait hours to tell me. The bodega could not be opened, the lights (whose switches were installed inside) could not be turned off, the grass cutter and Michael’s pili resin collection implements were inside. It required a simple solution but it took them 8 hours to inform me. By then two chores had not been accomplished: grass cutting and pili resin collection. Electricity had also been consumed needlessly.
Just like any other enterprise, a farm must run like a well-oiled machine. Despite our lack of manpower, we need to function as efficiently as possible. Imagine the losses incurred from seemingly inconsequential decisions that could have been used for pay hikes and whatnot.