GSS Seed School Teacher Training  Goes To Lobo, Batangas, Finds New Partner in MABISA

GSS Seed School Teacher Training  Goes To Lobo, Batangas, Finds New Partner in MABISA

Last July 20-21, 2022, our team went to Lobo, Batangas to hold a seed school with a group called MABISA. Efren, our Philippines Program Manager, Elizabeth, our Benguet Field Coordinator, and Karen, our Philippines Executive Director facilitated the workshop. The workshop was attended by 20+ participants from the Mabilog na Bundok at Sawang Organic Producers Association (MABISA-OPA), and students and teachers from the Batangas State University.

Here are a few photos taken during the workshop: 

Why partner with MABISA Group?

Our connection with MABISA begins with our partnership with ABS-CBN Foundation. Back when Gina Lopez was still the director of ABS-CBN Foundation, they implemented some eco-tourism, and livelihood programs in Tublay (an example of this is the Tublay Organic Farming Practitioners Association or TOFPA, wherein some farmers from the Benguet Association of Seed Savers were also members). From that time on, we have been consistently communicating with ABS-CBN Foundation, and they have indicated their interest in bringing our signature workshop in Lobo, Batangas.

MABISA is a community-led organization which was initially organized by ABS-CBN Foundation. Its members belong to Barangays Mabilog and Sawang in Lobo. They currently run the MABISA Eco Farm where people come and visit to learn about various ways of doing agriculture and experience the farm life up close. 

Why is this partnership important to GSSP?

Our vision as an organization is to create “hunger-free and healthy communities with access to sustainable, farmer-produced seeds and food”. We also hope to establish community seed libraries in as many areas in the Philippines as possible.

Finding new partners who recognize the importance of saving native seeds and growing food in a sustainable way helps us grow our impact in the Philippines. Every new partner we find brings our communities a step closer towards food sovereignty.

Lobo is a good place to start spreading our advocacy in the CALABARZON region. The ABS-CBN Foundation has already done the legwork in organizing and empowering MABISA to become stewards of their land. Through our seed school, we hope to complement and enhance agricultural practices. 

Witnessing Regenerative Agriculture at Kuatro Marias Eco Farm in Mindoro

Witnessing Regenerative Agriculture at Kuatro Marias Eco Farm in Mindoro

It was late April of this year when I met Jon Sarmiento. If you read my previous post, then you would know that Farmer Jon served as our main speaker during a training on regenerative agriculture in Arapal Cebu. 

I was so enthused and curious by what he taught us during the training that I wanted to see for myself how Farmer Jon practiced the techniques he taught us. What was the difference between conventional agriculture and what Farmer Jon called the Integrated Diversified Organic Farming System (IDOFS)?

On May 26, 2022, Karen and I went to Victoria, Mindoro with two goals. First, we wanted to see for ourselves Farmer Jon’s farm to see a real-life model of regenerative agriculture. Second, we wanted to further discuss our continuing partnership with Farmer Jon, particularly the after-training support for the attendees of the participants in Cebu. I am happy to report that all our goals were met. 

The lush, robust landscape teeming with plants was hard to miss. This farm is clearly endowed. It was bordered by a river so it is abundant with clean water, a resource that is essential for a thriving farm. We had to cross a bamboo bridge to get to the farm’s entrance. 

On May 26, 2022, Karen and I went to Victoria, Mindoro with two goals. First, we wanted to see for ourselves Farmer Jon’s farm to see a real-life model of regenerative agriculture. Second, we wanted to further discuss our continuing partnership with Farmer Jon, particularly the after-training support for the attendees of the participants in Cebu. I am happy to report that all our goals were met. 

The lush, robust landscape teeming with plants was hard to miss. This farm is clearly endowed. It was bordered by a river so it is abundant with clean water, a resource that is essential for a thriving farm. We had to cross a bamboo bridge to get to the farm’s entrance.

As we entered Kuatro Marias Eco Farm, named after Jon’s four daughters, we already felt a refreshing forestry vibe. This, Jon explains, is the “microclimate”, technically defined as “an area in which the weather is usually different from the areas around it”.[1]https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/microclimate Inside the farm, it is noticeably cooler, thanks to the shade of the many trees and tall bushes growing. There was a huge diversity of plants and trees growing here. So many, in fact, that I could only identify a few of them. 

Inside the farm, there is not one tree or plant that dominates the place. Just like what Jon illustrates during the training, his farm is indeed a display of diversity. Jon soon explained to us that the trees and plants inside the farm were a sort of an intentional collection that he gathered from his travels. 

Whenever he goes to places of friends, and because he’s known as a native tree enthusiast, he’d be gifted with trees. If he learns of a crop variety or a tree with characteristics that he sees useful in his farm, he makes sure to bring home some. This, he says, is the demonstration of the core principles surrounding regenerative agriculture— being intentional and mindful of the future. 

Regenerative agriculture is a perspective that takes into account what is currently happening while planning for what is to come.

“While climate change is urgent,” he said, “the collection of plants and trees that you grow in your forest farm should take into account how these can impact the future.” Regenerative agriculture is a perspective that takes into account what is currently happening while planning for what is to come. 

I witnessed how this principle was applied at the Kuatro Marias Farm. The decision to shift to organic farming from the industrial model was borne out of Jon’s love for his daughters. He wanted to give the best quality, and most unadulterated produce to his children. He reminded us of his experience from childhood where his parents would sell their best produce leaving only the rejected ones for family consumption. He said that this was what he wanted to change now that he has four daughters.

 

 One last take away from this experience was learning that regenerative agriculture is founded on a core guide which is the conscious implementation of biodiversity. The variety of plants in Jon’s farm creates a balanced ecosystem and thus, allows it to thrive better. It is also more resilient to natural calamities.

Jon recalls, “Whenever a typhoon hits us, and sometimes it really hits us hard, you can see the damage for a couple of weeks, and then my farm starts to regenerate. This isn’t the same with my neighboring farms who are doing monocropping— farmers will take months or even years to recuperate.”

Seeds: The Key To Open Doors

Seeds: The Key To Open Doors

In an island close to our country’s capital is the community of the Tau-Buid, one of eight ethnolinguistic groups living on the island of Mindoro. In my short stay amidst the mountains of Mindoro, I have witnessed how people can live a life of generosity and abundance despite not having the conveniences offered by modern civilization.

Mindoro, for those who do not know, is one of the largest and most populous islands in the Philippines, but it also one of the most preserved, both ecologically, and culturally. In fact, a blog post written by Eben Diskin in 2018 refers to Mindoro Island as an “untouched paradise” because of its natural beauty and biodiversity.

It is then, no understatement for me to say that visiting Mindoro was nothing short of a blessing. Living for a few days amongst the rivers, the aged trees, plants unknown to me, the birds singing their enchanting music amidst the backdrop of majestic mountains and blue skies, I am grateful to be granted this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I am a visitor to this place, but for the Tau-Buid, this land is their home and their life. Here “connection” has a very different meaning. There is no WiFi here where people can Google when and how to do agriculture. The Tau-Buid knows it through the traditions passed on to them by their ancestors, and through their experience living amongst nature. They have no need for clocks and calendars to determine which plants will thrive in which season.

The simplicity of living among the Tau-Buid has taught me that there is nothing wrong with pausing in order to savor and appreciate what we have. It is okay to not always get what we want. It has also reminded me that losing a few days of internet does not make me miss out on life.

While some of us worry about what clothes to wear, and what cars to buy, the Tau-Buid remains proud to wear a sheet of cloth as they tread the forest barefoot. While some of us might think that this is because they have no choice, my experience living amongst them shows that this is a choice that they made –  to continue these traditions and sustain their culture.

And as most of society is preoccupied in seeking for “what’s in it for me”, community life here is different. The leaders of the Tau-Buid is preoccupied in search for what is good for their community. They spend their resources to ensure the safety of their family and their community, as well as to protect their cultural heritage, and their land.

It is here where the negative impacts of economic development and the quest for power is pronounced, and clearly the Tau-Buid has long been at the receiving end. In the process, they have learned to become wary of visitors and foreigners.

But I was in good company, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to dine and interact with some of them. I realize that the conversations I had with the Tau-Buid, and the unique process of discovery I experienced in their land was possible only because of seeds.

Enjoying the serenity of Mt. Iglit.

The simplicity of living among the Tau-Buid has taught me that there is nothing wrong with pausing in order to savor and appreciate what we have. It is okay to not always get what we want. It has also reminded me that losing a few days of internet does not make me miss out on life.

While some of us worry about what clothes to wear, and what cars to buy, the Tau-Buid remains proud to wear a sheet of cloth as they tread the forest barefoot. While some of us might think that this is because they have no choice, my experience living amongst them shows that this is a choice that they made –  to continue these traditions and sustain their culture.

And as most of society is preoccupied in seeking for “what’s in it for me”, community life here is different. The leaders of the Tau-Buid is preoccupied in search for what is good for their community. They spend their resources to ensure the safety of their family and their community, as well as to protect their cultural heritage, and their land.

It is here where the negative impacts of economic development and the quest for power is pronounced, and clearly the Tau-Buid has long been at the receiving end. In the process, they have learned to become wary of visitors and foreigners.

But I was in good company, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to dine and interact with some of them. I realize that the conversations I had with the Tau-Buid, and the unique process of discovery I experienced in their land was possible only because of seeds.

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.

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.

    These two events have once again, allowed us to 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 Visit To Cebu, Discovering Regenerative Agriculture

    Reflecting On Our Visit To Cebu, Discovering Regenerative Agriculture

    In late March of 2022, Karen and I went to visit our partner farmers to see how everything is going on the ground. I went there filled with excitement because this is the first time I will be meeting our field partners and farmers personally. 

    You see, this trip has been postponed several times due to the recurring lockdowns and surges and COVID cases. This fact, plus the many stories of sorrows and triumphs amid the pandemic and the typhoons have further enhanced my eagerness to meet and engage in conversations with our partners. 

    And since we were visiting Cebu just months after Typhoon Odette devastated the province, I came here expecting to hear stories of how this typhoon impacted the farms and the lives of our farmers. I thought it would be a heavy and sympathetic kind of conversation. [Odette made landfall in December 2021. You can read about our response here. You can also read Harry’s reflection on the relief efforts launched during Typhoon Odette.]

    Of course in some conversations, farmers were lamenting the impact of the calamity, but I also heard stories of hope and saw first hand how some of them rose from the difficulties. What I expected to be difficult conversations turned inspirational. 

    Take for example Gina, who was forced to make do with a small backyard garden after the government retracted ownership of the land she used to farm. Despite the small size of her garden, she is now growing several crops. As of our visit, some of these crops were already flowering and many were ready to grow seeds. 

    And then there was Bevs, whose farm was thriving at the time of our visit. In fact, I thought that the typhoon spared her garden, but she told us that she was able to rehabilitate her farm pretty quickly. She says this was because used to run and manage a large farm in Bohol. 

    Despite these inspiring stories, however, the evidence of Odette’s force was pretty clear to see. A group of farmers in Pestales, for example, had a difficult experience to tell. The typhoon had disrupted their production because they were unable to use a large portion of the beverage and produce processing area. The roof had been totally wrecked. During  our visit, we were unable to meet their leader, Rodelyn, since she and her team were busy seeking grants to help out in their rebuilding efforts. But just like most of our conversations, the farmers of Pestales were committed to rise back up on their feet. 

    On March 23, during the latter part of our trip, we went to the north of Cebu where members of our Cebu Seed Savers, some GSSP staff, and the CAFEi team gathered for a training on regenerative agricultural practices at the Arapal Livelihood Center in Bogo City.

    The training was given by Jon Sarmiento, a farmer with twenty years of experience using what he called the Integrated Diversified Organic Farming System (IDOFS). 

    This system looks at climate change as an urgent situation. Farmer Jon highlighted that humanity has been overly exploiting and abusing the earth for a long period of time and because of this, the climate has drastically changed. This changing climate poses severe challenges to farmers. 

    According to Farmer Jon, a farm design using IDOFS should therefore take into account the impacts of farming activities to the environment thus not only thinking of what is happening now but more importantly what activities in the present can impact the future. Underscored in Jon’s talk was the governing principle in his farming practice. 

     

    “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”

    The underlying reason why one would choose to practice IDOFS is their love and commitment to their own family. He recounted his younger years when his farmer parents — both of whom were conventional farmers — would save up the best produce for selling to the market. The rejected produce are the ones left for their family’s table. 

    Here, Jon emphasized that in IDOFS, a farmer will choose to apply the best, and most sustainable way of crop production, those that are not laced with chemicals for example, because the purpose for growing food is to feed the family. A farmer that loves his family will choose to grow the best produce by cultivating his farm in the most sustainable way. 

    Listening to this, I recalled home. In Banaue where my parents grew up, there stood the majestic Banaue rice terraces, considered one of the wonders of the World. Unlike the other wonders of the world that were built by slavery, the Banaue rice terraces owes its magnificence to the love of our ancestors to their community. 

    Our modern world would call the techniques used in the creation of the Banaue Rice Terraces as contour farming – a sustainable farming technique that prevents soil erosion and maintains soil moisture.

    But for those of us who hail from Ifugao, this is the most concrete expression of our ancestors’ love and concern for the future generations. Through this example, I was able to understand what Farmer Jon meant by the “guiding principles” of IDOFS. 

    Food Sovereignty Launching

    Food Sovereignty Launching

    March 15, 2022. This is the day we officially launched  the food sovereignty campaign through the support of our partners from the Benguet Association of Seed Savers (BASS). But for me, who has been with Global Seed Savers Philippines (GSSP) for less than a year, this was an important day for a different reason. It was the first time I personally met the farmers whom I’ve only seen in photos. It was also the first time I came to Tublay, and the first time I experienced first-hand the work of GSSP. I was both excited and anxious, but also, determined to observe and learn the ways of the community.

    The activities were pretty simple, with the blessing of the soil and seed as major highlights. We had planned for a ritual to express our gratitude to the land and the seeds that enable our farmers to continue producing food for our communities. And of course, there was a lot of music, dancing, and food! Here are some photos and videos from the event: 

    This, however, was not a simple celebration. It was also a coming together of two communities, both devastated by typhoons in the recent past, one that has recovered, the other, still in the process of recovering. A major objective of the activity was to bridge the connection between the farmers of Tublay and the farmers of Cebu. As you may already know, Cebu has recently been devastated by Typhoon Odette. But this is not the first time that farmers in the Philippines have had to rebuild their farms (and lives) after a typhoon. In previous years, it was the farmers of Benguet who needed help. Farmers from Cebu readily sent their seed stocks to help re-enliven the farms of Benguet. Now it is the Benguet farmers’ turn to help Cebu rise up from the devastation of Odette.

    Through this event, the farmers of Benguet sent their compatriots from the South, prayers of strength, healing, and nourishment so that they may overcome their current challenges. In one part of the program, Karen, our Philippines Executive Director, asked all attendees to stand and touch the seeds and the soil which was going to be sent to Cebu. She said, this was so we could share our “microbes and microorganisms” to our partner farmers in Cebu.[1]Perhaps in future posts, we will have the opportunity to discuss the microbiome and its connection to agriculture. For now, we hope you read this resource to better understand the value of this … Continue reading This held a lot of meaning for me.

    And though simple the entire event was, it led me to a lot of realizations and lessons. For one, it helped me realize how the land, and agriculture in general, represent the interconnectedness of Filipinos. Agriculture and all the traditions and knowledge systems built around it are what makes our communities thrive.

    Another realization I had during the activity was this: farmers recovered from the climate disruptions they have experienced in recent years because they have not forgotten the spirit of bayanihan.

    “This spirit is indeed the heart and soul of our work at Global Seed Savers! Seeds, seed saving, building a community committed to sustainably feeding itself and resisting the ever growing stronger corporate and chemical take over of our food system, is only possible when done together…in community….with a true spirit of bayanihan!”

     

     

    — Sherry Manning, Nourish Celebrates Bayanihan Spirit

    As I say these words, I realize that there are so many ideas, concepts, and insights here that would need time and space to unpack. Perhaps, in future articles, we  would be able to expound on these ideas as they appear in the Philippine context. For now, however, I want to center on this one idea: There is so much to be done in terms of food sovereignty in the Philippines, but our communities already have the foundations to make it happen. Our communities have all the elements to make food sovereignty a reality in the country. It is only a matter of utilizing the knowledge we already have, and remembering the power they hold. As I leave Tublay, a single thought echoes in my mind: “The heart of the Filipino is in the right place”. As our world is currently in turmoil, I realize just how valuable this is. Though many of us are caught up in feelings of turmoil and hopelessness, the community and the lessons of the past ensures that our hearts will continue to beat together, in search of a better future.