Report on GSS Activities, Some Highlights

Report on GSS Activities, Some Highlights

Quarter 1 of 2022 has barely ended, but Global Seed Savers’ work is already in full swing. It’s as if we were all making up for the 2020 and 2021.

Last March 15, 2022, we conducted the Food Sovereignty Launching in Tublay, Benguet. As part of the campaign, we have also conducted two more workshops: Climate Smart Agriculture in Cebu and a training on Underutilized Legumes in the Cordillera. Aside from these two activities, we also celebrated Earth Day last April 22, 2022 with several farmers from Tublay by giving a short lecture on seed saving.[This article is focused on the first two activities mentioned above. For an update regarding our Earth Day 2022 Celebration read, Reflecting on our Earth Day Celebrations].

Highlights from the Climate Smart Agriculture Workshop

The Climate Smart Agriculture Workshop was conducted last March 23 to 25, 2022 at the Arapal Nature Farms in Cebu. It was facilitated by Farmer Jon Sarmiento from Mindoro, and attended by our partners at CAFEi and the Cebu Seed Savers.

Of the many important topics that was discussed by Farmer Jon, one that had a great impact was the importance of prioritizing food security for the families. He says that food should be locally produced and processed.

That food is essential to societies is no longer debatable. But the pandemic has taught us that disruptions in food supply can happen. Can you imagine how a community that is solely reliant on food imports and has no capacity to produce its own food fared during the pandemic?

But Farmer Jon’s discussion of food security did not just refer to the abundance of food. He also discussed the importance of nutrition security, which enabled him to discuss the many intricacies of food production. He discussed the importance of adhering to Intensified Diversified Organic Farming Systems (IDOFS) and Permaculture and stresses need to adhere to the values and principles that respect the interdependence of nature and human societies.

Beyond the skills of conducting Farm Vulnerability Assessments, and planning for disaster-proof farms, Farmer Jon has also sought to introduce to attendees a new philosophy of farming which offers a good balance between protecting the traditional practices, and promoting innovation.

Here are a few photos from the workshop:

Highlights from the Seminar on Underutilized Food Legume Species and Development of Specialty Legume-Based Food

This workshop was held last April 8, 2022 in partnership with the Benguet State Education Higher Education Regional Research Center (BSU-HERRC).

Here are some of the highlights of that lecture:

  • Dr. Belinda Tad-awan opened the seminar with a discussion of her research on some of the most underutilized food legumes that can be found in Benguet and the Mountain Province. Some of the species mentioned included cowpea, lima bean, pigeon pea, and rice bean.
  • Hector Gayomba went next to discuss his experiment on various organic seed treatments.
  • Mr. Gayomba’s study found that the most effective seed protectants we can use during seed storage are pulverized madre de cacao leaves and pine wood ash. Meanwhile, the most effective organic materials are coconut juice and extracts from horsetail plant, sunflower, malunggay, papaya, and garlic.
  • The seminar closed with a lecture on processing legumes in order to produce various food products.

Here are some photos from the seminar:

These two events have once again, rediscover the reality that there are many ways to achieve food sovereignty in the Philippines. These have also reminded us of our unique role in helping farmers access important information that can help them improve their practice.

Reflecting on our Earth Day Celebrations

Reflecting on our Earth Day Celebrations

Why are we celebrating Earth day? I have always thought of it as a corporate gimmick which was geared towards getting more people to spend. But my research into the origins of Earth Day has led me to several insights.

The first celebration of Earth Day was in the 1970s, which was attended by 40,000 to 60,000 people. From the beginning, Earth day was designed to raise awareness about persistent  environmental issues which plagues the planet. Environmental activism was still in its beginning stages and the Earth day helped propel climate consciousness forward. [1]https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/earth-day/

Efren giving introduction on the importance of seed saving.

The Earth Day was so powerful that just a year after, the US passed important policies such as The Clean Air Act, The Water Quality Improvement Act, The Endangered Species Act, The Toxic Substances Control Act, and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.[2]https://www.colorado.edu/ecenter/2021/04/15/history-and-importance-earth-day

Since then, Earth Day has become a day for reflection on how our actions serve to protect or harm our planet. It also serves as a reminder for the significance of protecting the health of the planet, and a day for asking ourselves what we can do to help ensure continuity of life on earth.

Many people credit Earth day as a vital turning point: from a society whose main goal was to extract resources from the Earth, we have now reached a point of awakening to our common destiny as citizens of this planet.

But even as environmental consciousness is spreading around the world, to this day, the degradation of our natural resources continue. We are now in the midst of a climate crisis. In fact, in its February 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that some impacts of global warming is no longer reversible. [3]https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-60525591

According to the study, “Over 40% of the world’s population are highly vulnerable to climate and that…places where people live and work may cease to exist, that ecosystems and species that we’ve all grown up with and that are central to our cultures and inform our languages may disappear”.

Despite these bleak predictions, however, Dr. Helen Adams, the report’s lead author from King’s College, London says, “things are bad, but actually, the future depends on us, not the climate”.

Karen discusses the impact of GMOs on our health.

If we are to turn things around for our planet, and for our societies, we must be ready to take drastic action.

But what exactly does it mean?

The theme for this year’s Earth day is  “Invest in our Planet”.[4]https://www.earthday.org/ It proposes two solutions:

  • net zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century to keep the global temperature below 1.5°C, and
  • the use of regenerative agriculture

How can these be translated to the Philippine context? As an agricultural country, the second solution may be most applicable for us, and in this, we are happy to say that conversations are already underway. [5]https://mb.com.ph/2022/02/09/regenerative-agriculture-practices-a-key-to-sustainability/, … Continue reading

But the way forward is still wrought with many challenges. The struggle for the transformation of the Philippines’ agricultural landscape is real.

For one, thousands of farmers in the country still refuse to transition to organic farming despite knowing the environmental and health impact of chemical agriculture. Our very own government is also pushing for GMO products, despite massive resistance among farmers, the most recent of which is the Golden Rice.[6]https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Agriculture/Philippines-stirs-controversy-with-genetically-modified-rice, … Continue reading

A 2014 study published by the American Marketing Association shows that belief systems, not profit, is the main reason why chemical farmers continue with their practice. The study found that “[M]aking that change [from chemical to organic] feels like switching belief systems”.[7]https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141111092825.htm

Manang Elizabeth discussing the wet and dry methods of seed saving. 

This discovery now points to the reality that the problem is now ideological. This makes the work of Global Seed Savers (GSS) and other environmental organizations both easy and difficult.

On the one hand, the “battle” is difficult because we will be going against deeply entrenched belief systems and decades of destructive habits.

On the other hand, it is also easy because we now know what we are up against. Now we need to come up with new ways of inspiring farms to adopt changes in their practice which are both sustainable and profitable.

And because the challenge is now ideological, it will require from us a lot of conversations with partner farmers in order to find the balance between their dreams for the future, and the need to restore our ailing planet.

We realize now the importance of going about our work in a holistic way. In the same way that we must ensure that regionally-adapted seeds are accessible to farmers, we must also pay attention to the health of the soil, water, and air. [This is the reason why we are now engaged with food sovereignty and the conversation about climate smart agriculture, read Report on GSS Activities, Some Highlights].

This Earth Day has led us back to a space of gratitude, for this planet, and for our friends and allies who continue to protect our living planet. Our work is just beginning, but we are ready.

Nourish Celebrates Bayanihan Spirit!

Image above: Jeffrey pictured with the GSS US Board of Directors at Nourish! View more pictures from the event here.

Once again, it is that time of year, when I am off to the Philippines for my annual trip! It always feels like a big push to make this trip happen, but once I am sitting (as I am now) at the gate in Seattle, the rush to get here fades away and my excitement for the next 5 weeks begins to set in.

My departure always follows our Annual Nourish Celebration and this years’ event was one for the books! On Saturday, October 26th over 130 guests gathered at the Posner Center for International Development to celebrate all things seeds, Filipino Food, and community. Sharing a beautiful Kamayan Feats guests enjoyed this communal style of Filipino eating with bare hands, which made for a festive and visually stunning experience. (more…)

Farm Visits, Board Planning and More!

Imagine a beautiful mountain valley surrounded by pine tree and tropical forested mountains, rice fields lining the riverbank, and a beautiful organic farm just above the road that passes through this magical place! This scene is real and last week during our farm visits with the Benguet Association of Seed Savers (BASS) we spent lunch and a lovely afternoon at Auntie Mary’s beautiful farm tucked away in Tublay Central. It is always grounding and reaffirming to go on farm visits with our dedicated farmer partners during my annual visits to the Philippines. While I recognize the deep importance my fundraising and advocacy away from the farms provides… my favorite days each year are spent in the fields learning, laughing, and sharing best practices with the BASS Members. They are a passionate, knowledgeable, and extremely dedicated group of farmers and each time we spend time together I am reminded of how blessed I am to get to work with each of them!

 

Tublay Central Valley

Tublay Central Valley View from Auntie Mary’s Farm

Auntie Mary’s beautiful organic farm sits along a small riverbed and she is a true organic practitioner having farmed organically the last 15 years, since a personal heath scare during her last child’s birth. She is a new member of BASS and plants a wide diversity of organic crops including okra, lettuce, beans, adlay (a Filipino native grain), and especially exciting is her native corn!! The Philippines is SE Asia largest producer of GMO Corn, with over 800,000 hectares planted around the country. Considering that corn wind pollinates up to 10 km, some studies are starting to show that all the corn in these densely GMO planted areas might be contaminated. It is a real treasure that Auntie Mary has native corn and she is excited to keep growing it out at her isolated farm and share seeds with BASS farmers and our Seed Library in Tublay.

 

 

We also visited BASS Members Fely and Pastor Jun (a new member of BASS and the current President of the Tublay Organic Farmers Association). I have known Fely for many years, since my early Peace Corps days and this was my first time to visit her farm. Set just below the ridgeline of Coroz in Tublay she has a wide and beautiful farm full of coffee (she partners with another NGO to export to Japan) and a wide diversity of vegetables including herbs and squash. We toured the area she had dedicated to saving seeds, but sadly her greenhouse was destroyed in the recent typhoons. We are still formalizing how to share the funds raised to support all the BASS members impacted by the recent typhoons. In total, BASS Farmers suffered over $20,000 USD in damages. To date we have raised just over $2,500 to support their continued recovery and any additional gifts are much appreciated and will go a long way to ensuring BASS Farmers can continue to propagate quality seeds. Donations can be made via our website: https://globalseedsavers.giv.sh/ba3e.

Pastor Jun’s Farm is located one ridgeline North of Fely’s and feels like a hidden gem as you walk the steep pine tree path into the woods and turn a corner to see a magical secret garden. Pastor is new to organic farming but already has a wide diversity of crops including dill, cucumber, carrots, beets, and more. His farm is in a perfect location for our continued seed trials and increased seed production, because it is well isolated and already proving to be fertile land. Pastor is excited to conduct carrot seed saving trails in the coming months and expand his seed saving knowledge as a new member of BASS.

 

 

GSSP Board Retreat and Planning

As you might remember, last year we registered our Philippine Counterpart NGO Global Seed Savers Philippines. It has been a fruitful year for the organization starting to gain local funding support and formalize their board roles and action steps. I have enjoyed getting to help guide this process with the Philippines Board and last week Sunday-Tuesday Karen, Padma (a longtime friend and the GSSP Board President) and I gathered in La Union at the beach for a two-day working retreat. It was the perfect relaxing setting to reflect, make plans, and brainstorm our future and continued growth. Priority topics included: local board development, an assessment of the current strengths on the board and what we are missing, we also laid out ambitions programs plans for the coming three years including:

  • Hosting 6 seed schools in 2019
  • Hosting a Philippines Wide Seed Summit in 2019
  • Launching at least 8 new seed libraries by 2021
  • Hiring more local staff to manage our growth to new regions and more!

It is an honor to be building this organization with Padma and Karen and I am excited to see where 2019 takes us after a fruitful and productive retreat. Also, special shout out to Nash another Philippines Board Member currently getting her Masters Degree in Belgium who joined us via SKYPE for day one of the retreat.

 

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GSSP Board Retreat: Karen, Padma, Sherry, and Nash via Belgium.

 

This has by far been my busiest trip to the Philippines in recent history; between conferences, travel all over the country, new partner development meetings, and lots of time spent with Karen planning, formalizing processes, and reflecting on our last three years of growth and impact! I am excited to head to Sagada tomorrow for some R and R to round off my final week here in the Philippines.

There is so much momentum for Global Seed Savers right now and I am excited to continue to support our Philippines Team and Farmers as we grow and ensure more farmers have access to locally produced non-chemical seeds!

Thank you for following along and all of your support for our work!

 

Beautiful Reunions, Permaculture Convergence and Cebu Collaborations

It has been a very busy and productive two weeks here in the Philippines. Wow hard to believe it has already been two weeks! It was wonderful to arrive and stay with my dear friend and our Philippines Board President Padma and her family. They have a beautiful oasis of an old family home right off of Taft and ESDA in the heart of Metro Manila. For any of you that have been to the Philippines you know that this is a jam packed, dense, loud, crowded area of what I affectionately call “The Big Smoke” (Metro Manila). So it was a breath of fresh air after a long journey to stay in their lovely ancestral home with high ceilings, friendly faces, and comforting delicious Filipino Food for one night.

The next day we had a leisurely drive North to Baguio City, and as we started to crest up the mountainside the air began to change and the cool pine tree breeze and familiar energy of Baguio City greeted us. While the city is ever increasing in traffic and noise it is always wonderful to return to the mountains and my second home here in the North. The following day Padma launched her book “Green Entanglements: Nature Conservation and Indigenous Peoples Rights in Indonesia and the Philippines.” A beautiful culmination of her PhD and time spent living, learning, and listening to indigenous communities about the many entanglements our modern world can present for nature conservation and IP communities. It was a wonderful book launch to honor Padma’s hard work and turned into a fantastic reunion of many Baguio City friends gathering to celebrate Padma and reconnect.

 

 

2nd Philippine Permaculture Association Convergence

The next morning we rose early joined by our partner farmers Ma’am Ester and Ma’am Letty and headed back south to Los Banos (2 hours south of Manila, so 8 hours from Baguio) to attend the 2nd Convergence of the Philippines Permaculture Association (PPA). PPA has become a fantastic partner in our work incorporating seed saving into their design courses and helping support our farmers’ participation in their trainings. The convergence was a beautiful gathering of like-minded souls from all over the Philippines each doing their part to build a more sustainable future. It was wonderful to reconnect with many of our partners including our dear friends and seed sisters at Kai Farms Karla and Amena. We held a Seed School there last year and are looking forward to hosting another Seed School with them inearly 2019 and helping develop a community seed library in Silang, Cavite.

 

Karen, our dynamic Country Manager led a fantastic breakout session all about seed saving and the importance of our growing work. She beautifully described how seed saving paired with permaculture principles will lead to the most food and climate- resilient communities. There is indeed a growing awareness around the Philippines of the importance of saving seeds and ensuring all communities have access to their own locally produced non-chemically treated seeds. We are thrilled to be spreading this message and skill set with more partners and helping Filipino communities return to this sustainable and historic practice. It is becoming more clear as we share our work with a broader community, that there is a massive need to increase the local seed stock available to farmers and gardeners throughout the Philippines. Each time we share about our work more and more people wake up and realize the critically important role they play in this process. We are excited to see where all of the wonderful connections made at the PPA Convergence take us and thankful for the opportunity to have shared about our mission and advocacy with this wonderful community of farmers, earth healers, and friends!

 

Growing Collaborations in Cebu

After a quick one-night stay in Manila last Sunday, Karen and I flew to Cebu City on Monday morning to meet with our partners, the Cebu Farmers Market and their recently formed NGO, CAFÉ-I – Communities for Alternative Food Eco-Systems Initiative. We held two Seed Schools in Cebu this year and with their vibrant organic market happening three days a week in Cebu City we have been excited to explore a more long-term relationship and creation of a seed saving hub in Cebu. Cebu City is also where Karen grew up and her parents live. They were kind enough to host us while we were there and it was wonderful to spend some time with her family.

 

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With our partners in Cebu Teresa and Bingbing of Cebu Farmers Market and CAFE-I!

Many of our dynamic partners around the Philippines are led by strong duos of women and Cebu is a perfect example of this! Ate Bingbing is a Slow Food Advocate and has helped establish and manage the small Seed Library they started earlier this year after our first Seed School. Ate Teresa is a tireless community organizer who years ago had the vision to create access to healthy organic food in Cebu which is what formed the vibrant Cebu Farmers Market. They partner with farmers to sell locally produced healthy organic produce and products three days a week in Cebu City. Teresa is also very active in the Anti-Golden Rice Advocacy (GMO) Movement and extremely passionate about our collective work.

On Tuesday morning we met at their beautiful office space set up on a hillside with three small rooms and a beautiful deck for outdoor meeting space and a garden. Since holding our two Seed Schools in Cebu earlier this year, it has become clear there is a growing movement for organic farming on the island and desire to launch a seed saving program. We had a great planning session to prepare for our meeting with the farmers on Thursday. We also enjoyed a wonderful lunch with two of the leaders at the Cebu Farmers Market, Tita Jeidy and Kuya (older brother) Dito. They both have amazing personal stories of overcoming health challenges through growing their passion for organic farming and access to healthy and sustainable food.

46463869_2392260184120930_2187933770252812288_n.jpgKuya Dito is a graduate of our earlier Seed Schools and a passionate seed saver, proven by the fact that within moments of our time together he pulled out seeds from his pack! A number of years ago a coconut tree fell on his back leaving his legs slightly paralyzed. He now walks with two canes and leg braces. However, this nearly life-devastating experience helped him become more passionate about organic farming. Despite his physical limitations he continues to work hard to produce a wide diversity of organic crops and help restore many local varieties of fruit. His farm is known for passion fruit production and he was kind enough to give me a bag of delicious passion fruit before we left. The humble kindness and generosity of the farmers we work with never ceases to amaze me!

On Thursday a group of 30 farmers gathered at the CAFÉ-I Office to learn more about launching a Cebu Seed Savers Group. Karen and I spent the morning sharing more about our work, the model we have created in Benguet Province, and the importance of communities returning to saving their own seeds and operating seed libraries. The participants ranged from landowners who are passionate about organic farming, smallholder farmer co-ops, young farmers as well. The average age of farmers in the Philippines is 57, so a key to ensuring a food secure future for the Philippines is encouraging and training the next generation of farmers.

 

During the second half of the meeting all participants located on a map where their farms are and shared more about the types of crops they are currently growing, and what seeds they would like to be producing. It was wonderful see the spread of these dedicated farms across the island of Cebu. Cebu City is the oldest City in the Philippines and used to be the capitol of the Country. Cebu is a southern hub of the country and we are strategically very excited to be expanding our work to this region to form a Cebu Seed Savers Group. All of the participants are excited to join in this effort and they will be meeting again in early January to make further plans. Karen will also be traveling to Cebu in February to conduct another Seed School and a Seed School Teacher Training Course to ensure those that wish to teach seed saving in their communities have the skills and knowledge to do this.

While we are still finalizing our plans for how the Cebu Seed Savers Group will be organized and managed, we are thrilled to see our work grow to this important Southern Regional Hub of the Philippines. We are grateful for our growing collaborations and so thankful to be building this movement with Cebu Farmers Market, CAFÉ-I, and all of their participating farmers!

Onward with Seeds!!