Bountiful first harvest points to market potential of upland produce

The Mangyans, an indigenous group living on the island of Mindoro, are known for their peaceful and welcoming nature. Unfortunately, behind this placid demeanor, Mangyans have struggled to feed their families, secure their livelihood, and claim their ancestral domain.

Zero Extreme Poverty 2030 (ZEP 2030), a coalition of non-government entities that aims to reduce extreme poverty in the Philippines by 2030, has its eyes set on the Mangyans, recognizing that IPs are among the most impoverished in the country. Apart from IPs, ZEP 2030 targets to help one million extremely poor families from among farmers, fisher folk, and informal settlers.

Organic vegetables planted by the Mangyans are ready for picking, in time for the Harvest Festival in Naujan, Mindoro

In partnership with local government and civil society organizations, ZEP 2030 has worked with the Mangyan community to identify their pressing needs and work on building the sustainability of their food source.

Corazon Maribunay, a mother of four, describes the daily task of bringing food to the table. “It’s difficult to live up in the mountains, we’re unsure where we can source our food especially when there is a typhoon or flooding in our area. If we get to harvest sweet potatoes or corn, we would have food, but it’s usually insufficient to tide us through the next harvest,” she says.

Armed with this knowledge, ZEP worked with the local community to undertake interventions and programs to address the issue of food scarcity.

Weeding out food insecurity

The Mangyans in Naujan have an existing IP organization called Samahan ng mga Nagkakaisang Mangyan Alangan ng Mindoro Association (SANAMA). According to SANAMA, previous efforts to help their community farm their land have been unsuccessful, primarily due to the absence of technology and knowledge transfer to the Mangyans. Although coffee, cacao, and calamansi naturally grew in Naujan, the Mangyans did not have the expertise and equipment to process and prepare these crops for the market.

For six months, ZEP 2030’s Livelihood and Partnerships for Indigenous Peoples clusters, led by Peace and Equity Foundation and Assisi Development Foundation, respectively, worked to educate mothers from 80 extremely poor families from the Mangyan-Alangan community in Naujan’s Barangay Paitan.

With the help of EastWest Seeds Inc., the mothers were educated and given hands-on training on natural farming technology. The mothers learned to use farming tools, raise seedlings, and apply natural pesticides and fertilizers. They also acquired an understanding and appreciation for organic farming as a means to care for the land they

cultivate.
“We surveyed the community and consulted the mothers as to the kinds of vegetables and fruits they usually ate at home. Upon assessment of their area, we identified crops they could easily grow and augment their family’s source of food,” said Benjamin Abadiano, Lead Convenor of ZEP 2030.

ZEP 2030 taught the participants the importance of vermi-composting in organic farming.

“Helping them plant the food they eat addresses the community’s need for food security and nutrition, and eventually, helps build their livelihood potential. It was enough push for the participants to finish and accomplish the six-month training.”

As part of the training program, ZEP 2030 helped the community build greenhouses, vermicomposting areas, dryers, and processing centers at the Tugdaan Mangyan Center for Learning and Development. Tugdaan is a Mangyan-Alangan word for “seedbed,” emphasizing the commitment of the center to anchor the development of the Mangyan community on their life and culture. The school is also supported by ZEP 2030. At the center, the community had successfully grown crops to feed their families or sell in the market.

Mangyans turn their lives around

Literally seeing the fruits of their labor has boosted the confidence of the mothers and has given them the assurance that for as long as they worked hard, they would be able to turn their lives around. They have since sought to impart the same knowledge to the other members of their community, and eventually, prosper together.

“At first, we didn’t understand how the training would help us. We thought the new farming techniques would only add to our expenses. But when we saw that our crops were growing fast, we were impressed and worked really hard. We saw that common vegetation found in our backyard could be turned into fertilizers or pesticides. Our harvest was abundant. We found a stable source of food. We could also sell the produce in the market,” says Cora.

The bountiful harvest of the participating mothers was showcased at the 2018 Harvest Festival held last November at the Tugdaan Mangyan Center. In the event, participants demonstrated their newly acquired skills, including how to plot and prepare the land for planting, and how to make natural fertilizers and pesticides, to visiting stakeholders, local government representatives, and potential partners.

The mothers are grateful to ZEP 2030 and EastWest Seeds for giving them the required training and guidance, ensuring their road to self-sufficiency.

“With the guidance we received, we can now cultivate our land. Other members of our community have seen that what we undertook was not difficult after all. Now, we ourselves can spread the learning within the community. Now, we have the confidence of being able to support our families,” shares Cora.

Indeed, self-sufficiency, supported by collaboration, is what will bring about the eradication of extreme poverty in the country. “Our coalition is dedicated to helping communities become self-sufficient. The different experts from our member organizations lend their knowledge to offer long-term solutions to challenges faced by impoverished communities across the country,” said Abadiano. “We believe in the spirit of collaboration and we bring this in every community we serve.”

ZEP 2030 is looking for more member organizations and partners to join its mission of helping one million Filipino families break free of extreme poverty nationwide. To know more or join ZEP, please visit zeroextremepoverty.net.

This appeared without a byline in Agriculture Monthly’s April 2019 issue.