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16 Years of Harvesting Agricultural Journalism: Bright Leaf Awards Progresses Into the Future

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2023 marks the first in-person celebration together at the 16th Bright Leaf Awards

With its upbeat theme of “Harvesting Progress”, the 16th Bright Leaf Journalism Awards will be celebrating the best and the brightest of this year’s agricultural journalism for the first time in person since the end of the pandemic restrictions. On November 13, 2023, at 6:00 PM, the Bright Leaf Journalism Awards celebration will take place at Ballroom 2, Fairmont Makati Hotel at 1 Raffles Drive, Makati Avenue, Makati City. Aside from the awards ceremony, guests will be able to partake in cocktails at the event as well as stroll through the gallery images submitted by the finalists of the photojournalism categories.

The Bright Leaf Journalism Awards is an annual journalism competition given to individuals and teams who created different agricultural stories in the Philippines. But beyond that, the Bright Leaf Award builds a sense of community and integrity among agricultural journalists and media practitioners, while still emphasizing the value of telling stories about Philippine agriculture and providing hope and inspiration to their readers. Every year, winners receive a variety of prizes: including cash, a trip to a destination in Asia, and a Bright Leaf trophy.

The Bright Leaf Awards began in 2007, with less than a hundred participants submitting entries. It is currently organized by PMFTC Inc., the business combination between the LTG and Philip Morris International (PMI). The name “Bright Leaf” is derived from the Virginia Tobacco leaf, which turns into a bright yellow color after the curing process. From its humble roots, this year we have over 500 submissions that made the cut, successfully showcasing a variety of topics in agricultural journalism in 12 categories up for the Bright Leaf Awards:

  • Agriculture Story of the Year
  • Best Agriculture TV Story
  • Best Agriculture Radio Story
  • Best Agriculture News Story (National)
  • Best Agriculture News Story (Regional)
  • Best Agriculture Feature Story (National)
  • Best Agriculture Feature Story (Regional)
  • Best Online Story
  • Best Story in Tobacco Product Alternatives
  • Best Tobacco Story
  • Tobacco Photo Of The Year
  • Agriculture Photo Of The Year

This year, the Bright Leaf caravans graced the provinces of Bataan, Zambales, Olongapo and Pampanga, to talk about the awards and drum up interest among the agricultural communities. Overall, the caravans successfully invited agricultural journalists across the regions of the Philippines to submit their work to the annual awards. Of the 12 winners, seven are being awarded for their first win.

Among them is the winner of the top prize, Agriculture Story of the Year. Henry E. Empeño’s work, titled “Good as Gold,” was featured in the Business Mirror. The story takes a deep dive into the Zambales mango industry, and how it can progress and become a viable and vibrant industry in the future. Another first-time winner is Jervis Manahan, who takes home the Best Online Story award for his piece, which was featured on ABS-CBN News. Titled “The Onion Story,” Manahan’s work focused on peeling away the layers of problems that beset the Philippine onion industry amidst skyrocketing onion prices.

Speaking of skyrocketing prices, another Business Mirror story takes Best Feature Story (National). Created by the team of Cai Ordinario, Jovee Marie de la Cruz, and Jovy Noelle Rodriguez, the piece titled “Skyrocketing Sugar Prices Stroke Industry Liberalization Stakes” highlighted the rising sugar prices from the perspectives of two street ice cream vendors in Coron, Palawan as well as a banana-cue vendor in Metro Manila. The story dives into the causes of the sugar shortage and how to mitigate its effects, as recommended by industry experts, lawmakers, and economics.

On the bright side, the winner of Best Feature Story (Regional) is Genory Vanz S. Alfasain, a contributing writer for SunStar Davao and another first-time awardee. His article feature on “Rey John Basco’s Journey to Empower Coffee Farmers” celebrates small-batch coffee farmers and the positive impact they have on their communities. Continuing the focus on civic society, the Best Agriculture News Story (Regional) winner, Erwin P. Nicavera, highlighted community gardens for SunStar Bacolod with his article “Garbage Area-Turned-Vegetable Garden Feeds Community in Bacolod City.”

Best Agricultural News Story (National) awardee, Carmela Reyes-Estrope, is also a first-time winner of the award for her Philippine Daily Inquirer report, “Bulacan Moves to Protect Poultry Farms from Bird Flu”, which focuses on the challenges and importance of protecting poultry farms across the nation from bird flu, which has become a serious problem that affects the Philippine poultry market.

Meanwhile, the radio feature “Agri @ Home: The RMN DZXL 558 Special Report” by Zhander Cayabyab, a news anchor for Radio Mindanao Network (RMN) DZXL 558 and another first-time winner, focused on post-pandemic gardening. His report featured Filipinos who discovered home gardening during the Covid-19 lockdown, and how many of them pivoted towards urban agriculture to sustain their agricultural interests and passions.

Celebrating tobacco farming has always been central for the Bright Leaf Awards, and this year’s winners for Best Tobacco Story and Tobacco Photo Of The Year are no exceptions. Reporting for Mindanews, Bong Sarmiento’s story, “Unknown to Many, Tobacco Farming Thrives in Sarangani”, features the thriving tobacco farming community in Sarangani. He traces the history of tobacco farming, which originated from Negros Oriental, after several farmers from the Visayan province migrated to this part of the south four decades ago, lured by the government’s program enticing settlers to Mindanao, referred to as “The Land of Promise.”

Similarly, the winning photograph by Wilfredo Lomibao for Sunday Punch, titled “Gold Harvest,” features a tobacco farmer diligently inspecting tobacco leaves that were being dried on his farm in Barangay Angio in San Fabian, Pangasinan. Here, the tobacco industry has been a source of income and provided a livelihood to most residents in this region.

A relatively new award category, Best Story in Tobacco Product Alternatives, centers on first-time winner Cristina Eloisa Baclig’s article on Inquirer.net. Her work, “Vape Bill: Unresolved

Debate on Vaping’s Risks, Benefits Now to Reach Duterte’s Table”, presents a balanced view of the Vape Bill by presenting both sides of the debate.

Finally, photographer Rhoy Cobilla captures the Agricultural Photo of the Year award with his photograph titled “Weaving A Bright Future with Water Hyacinth” in which he shows a local woman hanging heaps of water hyacinth stems to be dried out, processed, and constructed as beautiful and intricate handicraft items which is a source of livelihood for some of the residents in Barangay Sucat, Muntinlupa City. These water hyacinth products are being sold locally and exported internationally because of its export quality, reaching cities as far away as Hong Kong, and the United States.

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