Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Stop Global Warming, Support Global Worming

I haven’t met a single Filipino that doesn’t believe in global warming. I haven’t met a single Filipino that doesn’t believe that human activity is directly responsible for aspects of this climate change. This is not a phenomenon limited to highly educated areas of the Philippines where folks have an intellectual grasp on the concept. In fact, this knowledge is most prominent in rural, agricultural communities.

How can it be that such communities have a handle on this difficult concept while so many of my highly educated countrymen are still struggling to embrace its reality? The answer is simple. Here is where you find the people whose lands and lives are being directly and adversely affected by environmental changes. While in the states, it is quite possible to remain insulated from the consequences of our actions and lifestyles. These farmers know their land intimately and can chronicle its changes, sometimes over generations. They will be the first to detail the negative effects of environmental changes on their lands and their lives.

This knowledge and hardship is prominently absent from the Western narrative. Winters are a little colder than when we were kids? No problem, just bump up the thermostat. Less rain in rural areas, no problem, just buy your produce from massive grocery chains. Hit by increasing natural disaster? No problem, there’s insurance and government programs for that.

Take a moment to consider the same, seemingly small inconveniences on the lives of agricultural people. The difference of a few degrees can have a larger impact on the yield of crops. This has a direct affect on a person’s ability to feed themselves and their families. Less water than before? Many people don’t have access to community water systems and rely on natural water sources. These sources are far more sensitive to the difference of a couple inches per year. In one community here in Kalinga, the lack of rain reduced the water table to a record low. It was so low that the recently installed pump system was unable to function and the whole community lost access to running, potable water in their homes. Once again, it is the economically unprivileged people who are forced to carry the burden of the world’s rapid development while enjoying far fewer of the benefits.

One social progression, that I will not go so far as to label a benefit, for Filipino agriculture is a rapidly growing interest in, and government support of, natural farming systems.

Let’s begin by taking a look at one simple practice, vermicomposting. Vermi refers to worms, in this particular case to African Night Crawlers. When these worms consume animal and plant waste, they release larger amounts of Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorus into the soil. In case, you don’t know, these are naturally occurring in soil and are key nutrients to plant life. Chemically manufactured versions of these compounds are ingredients in most major fertilizers. Vermicompost, unlike commercial fertilizer, breaks down these elements so that plants can actually metabolize them. This means a smaller amount is more effective and since it isn’t just dumping massive amounts, you avoid nasty fallout such as Nitrogen burn. The worms also excrete mucus that prevents these beneficial elements in the soil from being washed away during irrigation or rainfall. This means that the healthy elements of the soil before fertilization won’t be lost either. Further, since vermicomposting is done with a combination of animal dung and plant matter, the mixture is rich in indigenous microorganisms that make the soil fertile. These organisms are killed by the application of commercial fertilizer. This leaves soil that can’t feed plant. This means commercial fertilizers must be applied every cropping to feed the plants. The idea behind vermicomposting is to feed the soil and let the soil feed the plant.

The E-CARE Foundation in EDNL is currently establishing a commercial scale vermicomposting business in Santa Clara, Gonzaga, Cagayan. As vermicomposting requires additional work, the hope is to provide easy access to organic fertilizers to encourage natural farming practices. This is the next step after several years of advocating the production of vermicompost at the household level.

 The compost’s benefit is well demonstrated in conjunction with S.R.I (systems of rice intensification) a natural farming practice for the growing of the Philippine’s staple crop. The people of Gonzaga are currently engaged in corn farming. This requires an incredibly high input of expensive chemical fertilizers. E-Care is partnering with community members to encourage organic corn farming using vermicompost. This corn could then be turned into organic hog feed and drive the production of organic meat in the area.

These experiments in natural farming systems are commendable and require a good deal of risk for the farmer. There are many factors in crop yield and the right balance may take many croppings to discover. In addition, in areas of high chemical fertilizer use, it can take several croppings for the soil to recover. These factors have an immediate and unmitigated impact on the farmer. In spite of this, many farmers have seen the trend of negative environmental impact and are willing to take the short-term risk for the long-term benefits. Is it fair that they should carry this burden? Perhaps not, but I for one am extremely grateful for the hard work and conviction of all organic farmers. But a special “Thanks” goes out to all Filipino organic practitioners who are taking real risks without promise of immediate payoff so that current and future generations can benefit from their knowledge, experience, and positive environmental impact.
National Office staff inspect Santa Clara vermi bins made from concrete blocks and shaded by palm fronds. On top are Banana trunks for food.

Men chopping Banana trunks to feed the vermi to increase potassium content. The worms are fed manure and greens for three weeks to a month and then the compost can be harvested.

Carabao in a partner community. These guys provide manure for the vermi bins. Manure from grass eating animals such as carabao, cows, and goats yield the best results though chicken and pig are also common.
Cows at Santa Clara vermi site. E-Care hopes to promote cattle raising as a livelihood project in the area to provide income and manure for the vermi bins.
Inspecting possible sites for household vermi bins. Bins must be shaded to prevent worms from overheating and concreted on the bottom to prevent worms burrowing and escaping the bin in search of food.

Worms hatch every three weeks and are harvested and sold to prevent overpopulation of bins and create additional income at around 20 USD per kilo. Pictured above is around 6 kilos.

Vermi cooler keeps the worms at the proper temperature and reduces shock when traveling.
In large scale operations, the finished compost is passed through screens to separate worms that are then returned to the bins. The same process is done by hand in smaller operations.
E-Care staff's S.R.I. organic rice farm in Isabela that uses vermicomposting. This field is on it's third cropping as an organic farm.
Women mix together organic rice bran and fermented nutrients to produce organic hog feed at an E-Care training.
One prize hog. This bad boy is organically raised by a partner community in Isabela.
Fr. Edward and Project Officer Jocel commune with the worms at this very large scale vermi operation. Both are working to promote vermiculture in their communities.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Week in the Life

Monday: Around 9 on Monday morning my co-worker and I set off from the office in Tabuk. This time around, the development vehicle was in use elsewhere so we had to take the motorcycle. We traveled for about three hours, with regular stops to regain feeling in our hinnies. We parked out motor and took a twenty-minute walk up to the town plaza of Ag-Agama, Uma, Kalinga. Every town in the Philippines has an annual fiesta. In the smaller villages, the entire town gets together and contributes food for a communal meal. This is followed by a day of chatting, sports tournaments with surrounding villages, dancing, and of course, more eating. After taking our fill and chatting with the priests, we headed to sleep at the rectory.

People watching the Fiesta activities in front of St. Peter's Church in Ag-Agama, Uma, Kalinga
The winning basketball team celebrates their victory by playing gongs and dancing.
An insistent child refuses to surrender his position playing with the gongs.
Tuesday: We woke up bright and early to have breakfast with our host family. We then headed down to mountain to where our motor was parked only to discover we had left the key on the porch and the thoughtful house owners had put it inside. Unfortunately, they were not at home. So, we hitched a ride with a construction vehicle. We then hiked for over an hour up a very steep mountain to reach the community of Duya-as. Luckily the path had been concreted, but there were still over 800 steps. Here we had a meeting with a blacksmith organization that is partnering with E-CARE to mechanize their operation. They currently make bolos (similar to a machete) at a rate of one every three days. The mechanization will allow them to make two per day. We then took time to relax for the sacred order of siesta. When we awoke, we discovered that Padi had spilled the beans about my birthday being the next day, and the community decided to celebrate by butchering and roasting a wild boar. Full and jolly we walked back down the mountain and, unable to hitch a ride, walked back to Ag-Agama where we promptly passed out.

View of the mountains from the trail to Duya-as. We started in the valley and are about 1/3 of the way up.
Rice terraces and a sitio of Duya-As.
Woman harvesting her rice.
Harvested rice bundled and left to dry in the sun.
Rice and beans drying in the front yard of a house where we stopped for coffee.

Padi Gatan explains the manual operation of the blacksmith workshop and the improvements they hope to make.
When the community members discovered it was my birthday, they butchered a wild boar for our supper.
The wonderful folks of Duya-As pose for a picture after the celebration.
Wednesday: On Wednesday we slept in a tad and set off along the unpaved road towards Colayo. After two hours and two stops for coffee with friends, we reached Bihog. Here we met up with Padi John. After lunch came the afternoon rains so we napped and waited them out. We then proceeded along the narrow road, open only to motorcycles. Along the way we had to clear two rock slides and pass over a rather deep creek. There was a fair bit of getting off and walking the motorcycles. Finally we arrived at the end of the road where we parked the bikes and continued on foot. We walked down into the river valley, crossed two suspension bridges, went back up the canyon, and arrived after dark. We were greeted by the 70 or so year old retired village catechist and settled in for the evening.
Clearing the rock slide so the motorcycles can pass through on the road to Colayo, Pasil, Kalinga.
Thursday: We rose early once again and had fried fish for breakfast at a church member’s house. We made our way up to the elementary school. The students seemed quite distracted by the events. As the two teachers in the community are church members, and the appearance of the priest in their community is rare, classes were cancelled for the day. Mass was held in the elementary school classroom. After this, we conducted a program orientation and discussed the formation of a co-operative savings group, potential livelihood projects and the management of the mechanized rice mill. The meeting, as always, ran late. The rain moved in around five and the power cut out leaving us with a late dinner in the dark after a satisfying day of meetings.
Padi John conducts his monthly mass in the school building the congregation uses in lieu of a church building.
Going through the E-CARE program orientation in the Colayo elementary school.
The girl on the right is also named Carlin. While very keen to have her picture taken, totally horrified at the concept of taking a picture with me.
Colayo community members learning about cooperatives.
Friday: We again started the day with an early breakfast with community members. We then hiked down to the river to inspect the power source for the community. I had noticed on the way in there was no grid, but there was electric lighting. It turns out the community runs on Micro-micro hydropower. Households grouped together in bunches of 5-30 and bought generators that they hooked up to homemade water wheels. The design came from a Fillipino miner who wanted to find a way to listen to his radio while working at the mines. The investment is eco-friendly and requires a one time investment of 10,00 pesos (about 225 USD). The micro generators provide enough voltage for electric lights but not quite enough for appliances. After this we make a social call to the local political leaders. They showed us around the copper mine and treated us for lunch. Before we could hike out, our hosts gave me a set of water buffalo horns as a birthday gift. These were then strapped to my back as we hiked back out, found the motorcycles and proceeded back down the road to Bihog where a rainstorm stopped us and we hunkered down for the night at Padi John’s place.
The water wheel that provides electric lighting to  32 households.
I'm a happy carabao. I got water buffalo horns for my birthday as well as the joy of hiking them out of the community.
Saturday: My co-worker and I set off early back down the road towards Ag-agama. This time we stopped and inspected at church building in the sitio of Latawag. We also held a community meeting to introduce the people to vision 2018 of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines that says, “By the year 2018, we envision a dynamic and vibrant church of caring, witnessing, and mission-oriented communities.” A major aspect of this is creating self-reliant parishes that are able to support not only themselves, but also engage in social ministry and community development. We then were gifted with fruit and soft brooms, which we loaded onto the motorcycle and headed to the main town of Lubaugan to visit a weaving enterprise. Unfortunately, we got stuck before we could reach town by the arrival in the mountains of a typhoon. The rain had us seek shelter at the closest community. This happened to be a recreation of a traditional Kalinga village used for indigenous arts and culture events. We spent the night with no electricity in wooden huts constructed without a single nail. I even experienced my first earthquake in the middle of the night. I have to admit, I was completely terrified. Luckily, it was quite minor.                       
Recreation of a traditional Kalinga village where we waited out the typhoon.
 Sunday: Finally on Sunday, two days behind “schedule” due to weather, we loaded up on the motor for the last time and headed to Lubuagan. We met with the head of the Mabilong Women’s Weaving Association and arranged payments for the products E-CARE is marketing. Then we set off towards home in Tabuk. Just when the end of a long week was in sight, we had an irreparable flat tire on the back of the motor. This saw me, my horns, my fruit, and my brooms loaded onto a jeepney, a public bus of sorts, and taken the long way back to Tabuk. Meanwhile, my co-worker rode on the flat to the nearest shop to have it replaced. Once home, I fell immediately to sleep and prepared for work again the following day