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Opinion

Tales of sustainability from a tribal perspective

POINT OF VIEW - Daniel Jason M. Maches - The Philippine Star

I recently volunteered to man the exhibit of Slow Food Philippines during the World Food Expo (WOFEX) held at the SMX Convention Center on Aug. 3-6. It was a thrilling and learning-filled experience, especially for first timers like me.

But beyond the glitter and the shows happening, it was the advocacy that made the event more meaningful and memorable. I especially love the fact that many of those in attendance are social entrepreneurs and small-scale producers who have sustainable goals for both humanity and the planet.

As an indigenous person from the Lias tribe of Mountain Province, I felt like I was in a platform that supported our cause.

The expo is the country’s biggest food and trade show and as such, provided a myriad of opportunities for both visitors and exhibitors. Surely, we are grateful to the organizers of the event for providing platforms to sustainable enterprises and organizations, including Slow Food Philippines.

The Slow Food booth featured different products, including fresh produce that are part of the Ark of Taste, a catalogue of heritage foods worldwide.

Among these are traditional souring agents such as batwan, katmon, sua, tabon-tabon, libas and tila, all of which are endemic to the country. Some of these grow abundantly in the rainforests. Other produce on display are pili nuts, adlai or Job’s tears, marang fruit and jam, Cebu cinnamon, imbuucan (heirloom rice from Ifugao), criollo cacao, landang (native tapioca) and coffee green beans from Arabica, Robusta and Liberica. Then there’s the asin tibuok, also called unbroken salt, which is only made in a few coastal towns of Bohol using artisanal methods.

Another interesting display is the kini-ing, smoked meat from Benguet that comes from native black pigs. It is similar to the etag cured meat of Sagada in Mountain Province but there are variations in the materials and methods used.

The list goes on.

Note that many of these are endangered due to lack of producers, destruction of their natural habitat and the introduction of more commercially-viable varieties.

The disappearance of these heirloom varieties would thus mean the loss of much of the country’s rich cultural and ecological heritage, including potential economic opportunities.

That’s why, its heartening that Slow Food is championing these unique products and traditions in a world that’s rapidly changing and evolving. A local enterprise known as Echo Store is also contributing to this cause by marketing local produce and native species to ensure sustainability.

More than a showcase

To man an exhibit for days is no easy task. Aside from the required physical endurance, one also needs to deal with different personalities. That’s draining especially for an introvert like me. But what fanned the flame of my endurance was my passion for promoting local and heirloom produce. That comes from my being an indigenous.

I remember that as a kid, my grandmother would share stories of how our ancestors defended our forests and rivers from tribal adversaries. For her, the forests are critical to provide life-giving water that irrigates our rice terraces. These terraces yield different undocumented heirloom rice varieties that supported our tribe for generations.

My grandma would also say that many species, including heirloom rice that were abundant during their childhood years, went extinct. It’s a saddening state that continues up to this day.

So, when I learned that indigenous products such as imbuukan are included, I felt I had the obligation to participate.

After all, there’s much more to these products than just being native or indigenous.

Heirloom products form the core of indigenous peoples’ (IPs) subsistence. For example, native rice is their staple diet, giving them strength for their daily grinds in the field or the forests. Heirloom rice also grows well in the surrounding forests. Thus, it plays an ecological role that benefits not only the local community but beyond.

In the Cordillera region, for example, the traditional farming of heirloom rice fostered the preservation of rainforests. These in turn feed brooks and rivers that provide water for both household and irrigation all the way to the lowland provinces.

Other native species including snails and birds also thrive because of heirloom varieties planted. Further, these have led to the development of indigenous healing methods which are often linked to their spiritual beliefs.

Sadly, commercialization and modernization have led to the endangerment of many heirloom varieties.

Losing these precious species would mean ecological deterioration and cultural disintegration for the IP communities.

After all, it there is one sector from whom the world should learn about sustainability, it is the IPs. Even the United Nations say so.

Taking action

Despite the modern trends facilitating the loss of heirloom heritage, it is encouraging to see people from different backgrounds coming together. Organizations and institutions have been formed to support this cause.

Slow Food (www.slowfood.com), for example, engages in different programs and projects to help people appreciate the value of heirloom varieties.

The EchoStore (www.echostore.ph)  is likewise developing processed or packaged versions of these heirloom produce to extend the shelf life and reach more consumers. For example, they create and market jams from native fruits or roast coffee from organic farmers.

During the exhibit, I have seen how entrepreneurs, chefs, farmers, academics, government employees, indigenous members and journalists cooperate to raise appreciation and understanding of heirloom varieties. They are all Slow Food volunteers, united in their common goal of promoting good food to protect the planet’s biodiversity and contribute to social justice.

I hope there will be more of these meaningful engagements.

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Daniel Jason Maches is the founder of Barlig Rainforest Coffee Project which aims to pilot ecological-based farming in his community. Follow his blog: https://danielsecotravels.com/

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