IFOAM-Asia Organic Youth Forum: Our Journey through Mindanao

Mindanao is tainted with a not so ideal reputation due to incidences of war and terrorism. A travel ban in the region is also in effect for foreigners. But this did not stop me together with 20 other advocates of the organic movement to travel around Mindanao and learn how organic agriculture is practiced there.

We represented our respective countries namely China, Taiwan, India, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Bhutan, Indonesia, Philippines, Argentina, and the UK to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)-Asia Organic Youth Forum which is part of the 3rd Organic Asia Congress.

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The pre-forum activities included field trips where we got to see firsthand the efforts being done by individuals, organizations, and local government units (LGU) in promoting the organic movement. One impressive initiative is the “From Arms to Farms” project of Mayor Rommel C. Arnado which transformed the Municipality of Kauswagan from a depressed ghost town and war zone to what it is now, a barometer of peace. A Bogota Peace Prize and Galing Pook awardee, the project trains rebel returnees to become organic farmers which Mayor Arnado believes addresses hunger, poverty, and the issue of land grabbing considered as the root causes of violence in the area.

Another simple yet impactful project is the setting up of a farmer’s market in Cagayan de Oro led by Governor Bamby Emano of the Province of Misamis Oriental. Farmers can sell their naturally grown produce every Friday at the market without paying any fee. The LGU also provides transportation support.

The farms and the organic practitioners we met were likewise very inspiring. Alomah’s Nature Farm in Dahilayan, Bukidnon managed by the couple Benjohn and Grace Mahistrado showcases beautifully landscaped vegetable gardens. They have mastered diversifying and value-adding as they sell vegetable salad, vinaigrette dressing, and herb tea on top of turning their farm into a learning site and a tourist destination.

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A visit to the biodynamic family farm of Vic Tagupa located at Dumarait, Balingasag gave us a glimpse of a philosophical and spiritual approach to organic farming. Considered as a model of a climate-resilient farm, the 1.44-hectare land is surrounded by a perimeter buffer dike planted with nitrogen-fixing trees, banana, and fruit trees which serve as defense against flooding and contamination from synthetic fertilizers being applied in nearby farms.

In the Municipality of Talisayan, Maristella Rallos wants to make farming sexy. Her passion towards nature motivated her to start organic farming which in two years’ time has turned the bare land into what she calls now as VS Project, a space where she gets to try out good practices in farming.

School gardens in Bislig City was a delight to see especially knowing how children are exposed to organic agriculture at an early age. Interestingly, a lot of the youth from the cities and municipalities we’ve been to are motivated to practice farming the organic way.

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During the forum proper, we learned about best practices and experiences of young farmers, advocates, and organic pioneers. We also had the chance to interact with the local youth of Bislig.

The whole experience has been wonderful. I gained so much insights and is encouraged by all the brilliant stories and sharing. All I have is gratitude for the heartwarming hospitality of the LGUs, the hard work demonstrated by the organizers, and the friendship gained from like-minded people.

Cheers to a bright future for the organic movement in the country and in Asia!

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Fun Taiwan!

Have you noticed how everyone seems to be heading to Taiwan?

Well, thanks to the visa-free entry for Filipinos which started in November 2017 and was extended to July next year, a lot of Pinoys, myself included, took this chance to visit the country (a shout out to my friend who practically planned for everything!).

We stayed in Taipei in an ultra chic and modern hostel, the Taiwan Youth Hostel conveniently located near the train station. This made it so easy to go around the city; considering, too, that they have a very efficient transport system like any other highly developed country. Plus it’s worth mentioning that Taiwan is PWD and pedestrian friendly. There are also bikes which you could rent, with corresponding bike lanes. Makes you want to cry when you compare everything to the Philippines.

We availed of day trip tour packages (book through klook or kkday) which led us to usual touristy places – the Rainbow Village and Gaomei Wetlands in Taichung, the Yehliu Geopark featuring rock formations, Shifen Village, and Jiufen.

It was nice to learn about the history of the Rainbow Village, how former soldier Huang Yung-Fu painted houses to save them from demolition.

Seeing people release sky lanterns along old train tracks at Shifen was amusing but I was a bit concerned about pollution. Well, at least there’s an effort to make this cultural activity a more environment-friendly one.

Riding one of the fastest elevators in the world to get to the top of Taipei 101 may be overrated. But it was still quite an experience to have a bird’s eye view of the whole of Taipei.

If you’re into cultural performances, catch a show at Taipei EYE for authentic traditional performing arts.

But the best part for me is the variety of Taiwanese cuisine you can try and enjoy for a reasonable price. There’s beef noodle soup, tofu (not the stinky one for me, please), dumplings, pineapple cake, bubble tea, and the list just goes on.

It’s no wonder why so many people are wanting to go to Taiwan which has so much to offer – the scenery, the food, the people. It sure is fun in Taiwan.

 

 

Minimalist Me: Ecological Footprint

I want to minimize my ecological footprint or my demand towards nature going against anthropocentrism because really, it’s not all about us, human beings.

I adopt minimalism with regard to shoes, clothes, other things like books, even food that I eat.

In the office, I make an effort to use both sides of paper. I encourage my colleagues to segregate garbage (which seems so difficult to follow) and urge them to avoid single-use plastic.

When eating out, I tell my friends not to use plastic straws or challenge them to eat more veggies.

I constantly talk about the little things we can do to contribute to caring for the environment.

Some people do try to support environmentalism but others, I’m afraid, just find me overbearing whenever I start talking green. And sadly, a lot of people just don’t care – they have other stuff to worry about and environmental issues are the least of their concern.

There’s also the question whether individual action can actually cause real impact. Taken collectively, it can influence corporations. But these corporations can take advantage of it weaving corporate action as sustainable when it’s far from the truth. Case in point, Starbucks replacing plastic straws with sippy cups made from more plastic. Starbucks claims the plastic lid is recyclable unlike plastic straws but do they really get recycled?

Another downside of these individual environmental actions is that it can make people feel that they don’t need to do anything else as they already did their part. Annie Leonard, in an article, said that civic engagement is the real source of power to make a difference.

The key then is consistency as well as continuous involvement in environmental initiatives. We do this not really to save the earth because it is us who need saving. We are actually saving ourselves and the human race.

 

Healing Earth, Healing Society, Healing Self

“We have to be angry but humble… We have to fight joyfully.”

This statement came from 2010 Right Livelihood Award Laureate Nnimmo Bassey, an environmental activist from Nigeria, during one of the learning sessions of the Chulalongkorn University Right Livelihood Summer School (CURLS). Centered around the theme, “Healing Earth, Healing Society, Healing Self,” CURLS is an experiential learning journey that aims to promote the concept of Right Livelihood by living rightly on earth.

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Plagued by neoliberalism, characterized by liberalization of trade and investment, privatization of goods and services, and changing of public regulation to support corporate interest, the earth has been treated as a commodity. The market considered as its very soul results to materialism and complete disregard of our impact to the environment. Changing this deeply rooted mindset can be frustrating. It angers me as an environmentalist. Yet “We have to be angry but humble…”

I do my part and expect others to do the same. At the expense of sounding preachy, paired with occasional bursts of exasperation, I point out how we’re not doing much. How we can’t even do the most basic things like segregating waste or refusing single-use plastic! We even reason how individual choices wouldn’t matter as long as corporations continue what they’re doing.  Being angry and humble at the same time sure is becoming more challenging.

During CURLS, learning about the disappearance of Laotian Sombath Somphone, a dedicated community and development worker, was heart-breaking. Environmentalists, activists, earth’s healers, those who fight for what is right, are being harmed for the work that they do. This elicits anger and fear but Sombath’s wife Shui Meng Ng encourages us to keep on fighting. And we have to fight joyfully in spite of it all.

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“Please return Sombath safely.”

Sulak Sivaraksa, another Right Livelihood Award Laureate, said that before you heal the world, you should heal yourself first and be liberated from structural violence. Sulak mentions of an ideal society where there is equality, fraternity, and liberty from greed, hate, and delusion.

Perhaps we should learn from Bhutan which uses Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a measure of development, a departure from the usual Gross Domestic Product, or as Nnimmo refers to as “Gross Domestic Problem.” The fact that Bhutan has never been colonized, practicing Buddhist culture, made it easy to embrace the idea of GNH which is about holistic development and collective happiness. For GNH, there are nine interdependent domains being considered namely health, education, living standards, time use, psychological well-being, cultural diversity and resilience, community vitality, good governance, and ecological diversity and resilience.

Another example worth emulating is the communal living of the Konohana Family, an eco-village in Japan. They practice sustainable agriculture, they follow the law of the universe, and everyone contributes to the community.

Chulalongkorn University where trees abound, birds and squirrels freely roam about amidst busy students transported in electric buses, right at the center of a highly-urbanized city like Bangkok was the perfect learning environment for CURLS. It made me appreciate the idea of nature and modernity co-existing.

In a predominantly selfish society, there are still those who fight joyfully. Those who remain connected to the earth. Through CURLS, I met some of these people. I also learned valuable insights that could help me towards my path to healing the earth, the society, and myself.

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CURLS 2018 Participants

 

 

 

Photo Credit: CURLS 2018 Organizers

Diet for Climate

To explore how our meal habits and choices affect the climate change movement, a panel discussion dubbed, “MKS Room: Diet for Climate” was organized by MakeSense together with Greenpeace and #IAmHampasLupa Ecological Agriculture Movement.

Angelo Abcede, an environmental advocate and a vegan; Virginia Benosa-Llorin, Food and Ecological Agriculture Campaigner of Greenpeace; and Drei Castillo of Good Food Community became part of the panelists.

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The Panel (l-r): Drei, Virginia, and Angelo (Photo by George Buid)

Virginia gave an overview of the Diet for Climate Campaign of Greenpeace. She explained that Filipinos are eating more meat and less fruits and vegetables because of the notion that meat is nice, necessary, natural, and normal. This, however, is leading to health problems and negatively impacts the environment. She also mentioned that 30% of crops are grown for animal feed and 14% of greenhouse gas emissions comes from livestock production.

Lessening one’s meat consumption or having meat-free meals a few times in a week already helps. For Angelo, having undergone multiple brain surgeries due to brain tumor, he believes that shifting to a vegan diet that upholds the principle of compassion paved way to his speedy recovery.

As someone who works closely with farmers, Drei said that the organic movement is growing but it’s still a struggle on the production side especially related to value chain. To contribute to the campaign, she encouraged constant conversation on the issue, getting to know our farmers, and changing our habits.

During the event, Angelo also introduced easy to prepare meat-free recipes – classic hummus made by blending chick peas, cumin seeds, roasted tahini garlic, and olive oil; and mushroom pulao, a sort of Indian fried rice cooked in spices.

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Angelo demonstrating how to cook mushroom pulao (Photo by George Buid).

Climate change might be too big an issue but our collective action through our individual food choices can already contribute to the solution.

Follow this link to learn more about the campaign: http://bit.ly/2G1AlS7 

Negros, beyond the City of Smiles

Bacolod, known as the “City of Smiles” is the capital of Negros Occidental. Tourists would normally go on a food trip as part of their itinerary to sample the namit (delicious in Ilonggo) dishes the place offers.

You can have dinner at Aboy’s Restaurant, a turo-turo style resto famous for their grilled seafood; have chicken inasal at Chicken House for lunch; and have desert at Calea Pastries and Coffee.

“The Ruins” tagged as “Taj Mahal of Negros” is a must-see tourist spot in Talisay. You can sip your coffee while gazing at the lit structure providing a mesmerizing view at night. Don’t forget to take the obligatory table top reflected shot of this once great mansion, burned down during the World War II (to prevent the Japanese from using it), the fate of a lot of the mansions all over Negros.

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Just 30 minutes away from Bacolod is Victorias City where you can find Peñalosa Farm. At the farm, you can learn about organic farming and eat organic meat and vegetables.

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Travel back to the past as you visit Hacienda Santa Rosalia, a sugar plantation located in Manapla owned by the Gaston family. Built in the 1930s, the Gaston Mansion survived the forces of war and nature. The Chapel of the Cartwheels is situated near the ancestral home. This non-traditional church is made from cartwheels, plows, mortar and pestle, and broken pieces of glass. The church aims to make the Catholic faith more local and more accessible. The Hacienda Crafts Factory is also in the area, where world-class craft and woven products are made, providing livelihood for the locals.

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Bacolod is the usual travel destination in Negros but explore the rest of the island and you’ll be happy to see that there is more beyond the City of Smiles.

 

 

Minimalist Me: Food

Buying groceries can be challenging for me because I have this mental checklist, a criteria that I base my decision on, before buying something. Ideally, it should be organic or natural, environment-friendly, locally produced, and has less packaging.

I always check the ingredients list. If I recognize most of the contents, none of those words you can barely read, then I’ll buy it. I used to eat a lot of junkfood but now, I mostly eat fruits and nuts for snacks! Occasionally, I buy sweets and pastries but I’m also trying to lessen my sugar intake (and the same goes with salt).

I remember a chef saying that you should train your tongue to eat real food. Kids hate veggies because early on, they get used to artificial food bathed in too much salt or sugar or flavoring. Once your tongue gets used to natural flavors, you’ll realize how, most of the time, the food being served is too salty or too sweet.

For me, minimalism in terms of food could also mean lesser meat and more plant-based diet. It is ranked as number four among climate change solutions. Reduced food waste is third in the list so no to food waste, please.

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Minimalism is about mindfulness. Being mindful about the food we put in our bodies is something we should strive for. We should change the mindset that eating healthy is a punishment or is a way of robbing yourself of the good stuff because it’s not.