“People perceive the agricultural sector as a very masculine sector,” says the Los Baños based agriculturist Maria Cecilia 'Cel' Alaban. “Maybe because they think it’s all hard labour, but many women are also actively involved in agriculture”
Childhood love for mangoes
Mangoes have always been a special part of Cecilia Alaban’s childhood and have become a huge part of her adult life as a Science Research Specialist at the Department of Science and Technology’s Philippine Council of Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD).
- Maria Cecilia 'Cel' Alaban is one of Australia's 23 Meryl Williams Fellowship recipients for 2022-2023. She is one of eight Filipinas in this year's program
- Her research on the improvement and yield of mango in the Philippines is a joint effort between DOST-PCAARRD and Australia's ACIAR
- 2022 marks the 75th year of Philippine Australia Diplomatic Relations
“I grew up exposed to mangoes and other tropical fruits like duhat and kasuy, my father is from Guimaras. The several mango trees we owned were a source of income for our family."
Apart from her exposure to backyard farming, as a young student, Cel was very interested in science and which led her to complete an undergraduate degree in Agriculture at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños (UPLB).
Women in Agriculture
“At university, I didn’t notice a huge distinction between male and female students,” says Cel.
"There are numerous aspects of agriculture so at that time there are numerous women students in almost every aspect of agricultural studies.”
Rice became the initial focus of her work after completing her BS Agriculture at UPLB but she found herself returning to her true love, horticulture. She decided to pursue her Master of Science in Horticulture at the same university and eventually found herself focusing her work on improving the yield and production of mangoes.
One of DOST-PCAARRDs biggest initiatives is the mango breeding program implemented by the Institute of Plant Breeding at the UPLB, aiming to improve the quality of the Philippine Carabao Mango to be able to compete in the international market.
While local mangoes in the country are undoubtedly sweet and tasty, Cel says it has certain traits that are not good enough for export.
“We need to improve its resistance to certain diseases and fruit fly, one of the major causes of damage to our mangoes,” explains Cel. “It has also very thin skin which makes it vulnerable to wastage and insects.”
While the taste is undeniably of international standards, it was once dubbed as the world’s sweetest mango Cel and her team are currently working on improving its yield and refining its quality to be able to compete internationally.
Women working towards better opportunities in agriculture
While fieldwork is an important aspect of her job, development and training are equally crucial in shaping women’s role in the future of agriculture.
Cel is currently one among 23 women recipient of the 2021 Meryl Williams Fellows eight of who are Filipinas.
The leadership training program is geared to help women in agriculture to gain the necessary skills to build capacity to influence and create policies in the sector. “I value this training very much and I hope that this fellowship will allow me to create better opportunities to improve mango production,” says Cel.
“I’d also like to express my gratitude for the opportunity to improve my skills and knowledge. Maybe one day, on a personal level be given the opportunity to take on a leadership role in the sector” maybe one day head the Department of Agriculture? “Why not!” she replies.
ALSO READ / LISTEN TO