About a farm and a river

POINT OF VIEW - Michele T. Logarta - The Philippine Star

It was mid August when we set off for Alfonso, Cavite to bird at the Luntiang Republika Eco Farms where we soon discovered the enchanting river that flowed at the edge of the property.

After sightings of a Guaiabero and Rough Crested Malkohas, we made our descent down a steep and muddy slope to the river that is named Catmon. There, we saw the Blue Headed Fantails, Elegant Tits and Philippine Bulbuls, among other birds.

Hilda Cleofe, our host and owner of the farm, quickly jumped in the cold, refreshing waist high waters and headed for a small cascade that marked where the land dipped.

Hilda said that they – the owners of the farms bordered by the river – had agreed not to develop the river banks. We want to keep it the way it is, she said.

Hilda and her husband Ed bought the Alfonso farmland in 2011.  They called themselves weekend farmers for some time until Ed decided to leave his job in the city for good. During the pandemic, the couple, with their two children, moved to the farm permanently.  Hilda worked her office job from the farm.

Luntiang Republika describes itself as a certified organic farm. “We practice farming that provides for our needs, farming that is sensitive to the environment and farming that transforms communities,” the farm website said.

The farm is recognized by the Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Training Institute as a Learning Site for Agriculture. The DA also supports the farm by providing equipment and technical assistance.

In the community, the farm serves as the official address of the Alfonso Cavite Organic Farmers Agriculture Cooperative. Agriculture students from UP Los Baños, Cavite State University, Central Bicol State Agricultural University and the Visayas State University come to the farm to do their internship as well.

Accredited by the Alfonso Local Government Unit as an agri-tourism site, the farm is open to visitors wanting to experience life in the farm, with accommodations for guests wishing to spend a night or two.

The farm, according to Hilda, helps sustain other farmers by buying their produce at a fair price. A store can be found at the entrance to the farm where visitors can purchase health, food and beauty products, all made with natural ingredients. How-to pamphlets on various agricultural topics are freely given out.

At the time we were there, some 50 farmers had come to listen to Ed speak on best practices on organic farming. Ed and Hilda are advocates of value-adding and teach farmers how to convert a basic commodity into a new product, using various methods of processing.

A fine and delicious example of the value-adding approach in agriculture is the farm’s own brand of ice cream which we enjoyed for the afternoon merienda. Hilda proudly tells us it is a creation of her teenage son, using coconut milk, flavored with tablea and fruit – whatever is produced in excess in the farm.

Hilda’s river reminded me of the creek of my childhood in Quezon City. It was pristine then, filled with tadpoles that we would try and catch. We would wade in its shallow waters, stepping on stones to get to the golfing greens on the other side. We would clamber up a hill to climb the bayabas and duhat trees that grew there. Our yaya would joyfully get on the back of a cow that would occasionally be found grazing there. This was, then, a remote corner of Quezon City.

Every child, I think, should have the experience of a crystal clear creek, a babbling brook, a clean river to play and swim in – and trees to climb. In Metro Manila, this would be just a dream.

In the uplands of Alfonso, Cavite, Hilda and her family are living the dream of many.

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According to DENR, there are 18 major river basins and 421 principal rivers in the country. Few can be considered healthy and sustainable.

Under RA 9275 or the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004, DENR categorizes water bodies based on their quality, purpose and vulnerability to pollution. The classification determines how the water bodies will be managed and protected.

I read an article in a DENR newsletter about an awards program for the “best rivers” in the country. Rivers for Life, as the award is called, stands for Recognizing Individuals/Institutions towards Vibrant and Enhanced Rivers (R.I.V.E.R.S.) for Life. It was launched in 2018 to increase awareness of the need to protect and conserve the rivers in the country as well as to recognize the best practices in river management undertaken by DENR workers.

In 2021, Bukidnon’s Panlibutahan River in Valencia topped the awards, with the Apayao-Abulug River in the Cordillera Administrative Region and the Taguibo River in Butuan City, in second and third place. The rivers were lauded as models and proof that rivers can be restored to health and vitality.

According to a report by the Water Environment Partnership in Asia, a third of the country’s rivers serve as public water supply.  Furthermore, access to clean and adequate supply of water is an acute problem, hampered greatly by the pollution.

Water governance, researchers point out, is the crux of the problem.

In the paper “Challenges of Water Governance in the Philippines,” published in the Philippine Journal of Science in 2015, authors Agnes C. Rola, Juan M. Pulhin, Guillermo Q. Tabios III, Joy C. Lizada and Maria Helen F. Dayo wrote that “the involvement of local communities in water governance can spell the difference between the success and failure of governance efforts.”

The month of September is National Clean-up Month with the third weekend pegged as International Clean-up Weekend.  Sept. 17 was International Coastal Clean Up Day and Sept. 18 was World Water Monitoring Day.

All these “Special Days” are well and good. Do they make a dent?We all know that the environmental problems are not solved in a day by ceremonial clean-ups. But any little effort one makes is always a good thing.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram @thegreentailedwalkerph

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