Do we not realize we can feed each other if we care enough for God, neighbour and land? (2012)

Pedro Walpole

Landslides in the mountains of Upper Pulangi

Last week I heard the stories from Sila-e where farmers have planted hybrid corn that I have heard from many places in Mindanao.  They don’t have to plough the land as they use herbicides and their life is much easier.  What they do with the extra time and energy I don’t know, maybe they invest it in other livelihood activities.

But at harvest time they have to pay 150% of what they borrowed by way of seeds, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.  Then there are transport costs and it all sounds like 5/6.  The crop is not enough some years to pay the bills and feed the family.  The government had a program through the banks, but people did not pay up so the government cancelled it.  They have to pay the trader, no way out.

Now though the men work less, they have less to eat, they can’t use their high yield seed stock for planting.  They are in debt; so much debt that they have become labourers on their own land.  The landslides have been extensive on the hills so production is lower.  They lost their forest at the end of the logging when the forest was open and fire could enter.  In 1987, there was a drought and everything burned. The ways forward are not clear; the youth are greatly challenged and have to find new paths of hope.

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A landslide on the road to Bendum

Life in Bendum is where some people still share their seed stock of local variety corn. Few continued to plant hybrid corn before they lost everything. The Pulangiyen keep balanghoy, gabi ug kamoti as a staple. Few have lost all their land, though there are are many difficulties as people are far from the city. They have food resources in the forest they can draw on in drought. People would like much more but they value what they have and do not want to give it up with out honest choices.

The future for all in the uplands is uncertain, but there is hope.  What does this mean?  That our life is of God – a gift – and gratitude is due. P art of this gratitude is to be truthful, to be faithful to God and to others. To humbly seek what is good not what is for self.  Hope comes from living truthfully and responsibly with neighbor and visitor.  Hope comes from respecting the environment whether forest of Pulangi or desert of the Israelites.

When the indigenous peoples plant their crops, they begin with an expression of gratitude and prayer.  At harvest time, they again give thanks for their harvest. When they hunt, they give thanks for the animal that has given up its life so that they may have meat to feed their children and celebrate with friends.  The indigenous peoples live with gratitude because they are so closely related to the resources that give them life and that life they know comes from the Creator.

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Soil erosion

Modern lifestyles make us believe that food is instant—instant coffee, instant noodles, “hamburgers” and other “foods”, that seem to bear no resemblance to natural produce.  Food and nature seem almost unrelated in the modern world: fruit doesn’t come from trees, it comes from an aisle in the grocery store, from the unknown world of herbicides and pesticides.

The Bendum youth learn their culture in school and are committed to sustaining the Pulangiyen way of life – not preserving it or sugar coating it, but living it with integrity.  To the Pulangiyen, the forest is market, church and hospital, the wisdom of how they have lived in this has formed the rules, roles and relationships.  For the Pulangiyen youth, it is their school, classroom and library.  The forest is integral to the life of the community.  Our language is not backward; with a strong reflected cultural framework, we know what we have learned and are more adept at learning other languages while still holding our identity.

Though the connection between the people and the forest is strong, there are significant pressures on this resource, not only from external interests, but also from within the community. There is also recognition that certain areas are over utilized, and because of this there are efforts to begin a program of resource management. The youth are integral to the activities in Bendum, particularly in the restoration of forest cover and biodiversity.

The youth of Bendum recognize that sustaining their forest is a way of sustaining the land and their cultural heritage. It is also a way we stay humble and acknowledge that all comes from the Creator, Migtanghaga. Do we not realise we can feed each other if we care enough for God, neighbor and land?

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