Who really owns the land, and for what purpose?-A A +A
Monday, August 19, 2013
HIGHLAND agriculture boasts of beautiful rice and vegetable terraces structures in our mountainscapes. Is that all there is to these relics - the beauty and the boast?
Of course not! The boast is not anchored on an imaginary shadow, an extinct reality of history the eye sees in prints, would not let go and yearns to go back to. It is agriculture thriving still today with the dedication, devotion and courage of hearts and minds of hardy stewards to make it work in our rugged highlands. Indeed, with the march of time, needs and demand for produce effected changes in strategy and methods employed.
De facto organic or natural farming, probably the best known to man characterized the beginnings of Cordillera terraces farming, whether it is and was swidden or permanent paddy rice production.
Swidden or slash-and-burn farming in other areas of the country is rather temporary and had long-term destructive consequences to the environment. Documentation and understanding of this kind of farming in the rest of the archipelago does not apply to the practice of our ancient folks. In most cases, a piece of mountain land or pristine forest was never meant to be slashed for temporary food production. That was and is today, I must say is the truth otherwise the Cordillera forest which is still the most pristine some two or three decades ago would have long been gone, slashed, burned, eroded and made unfertile by the growing need for food.
For rice production, our folks in Benguet, Mountain Province, Ifugao and Kalinga pursued irrigated rice terraces farming. If you looked closely into this kind of farming, it employs advance indigenous farming practices that conserve the soil and water and the forest as well which is the source of water and nutrients aside from the green manure that farmers bring to the terraced farms. Rice terraces are built where the sources of irrigation water are sufficient and ensured all year. In Abra and Apayao, one finds rice terraces too but in addition they also employ kaingin rice farming. Kaingin rice farming is introduced to the locality from outside.
Going back to swidden, slash-and-burn or kaingin farming, those that we see done in the hinterlands of our mountains have more permanent characteristics. These are opened following a peoples traditional practices --- practices that goes deeper than the adopted culture and practices of the Philippine Republic. In the first place, the mountain natives of the Cordillera are not nomadic. They have a fierce respect for territory, natural resources utility, ownership and indigenous ways and means of protecting and conserving individual and communal properties.
When an individual opens up a farm in the forest, it is almost within the protection or boundary of the village. Some may have gone further at their own risk. Still, the practice is not migratory as some suggest. It certainly is not done to harvest some food this year and abandoned later as you move to another place, as if there is so much land available to plunder. The old practice of kaingins here followed more or less the principles of rice terraces farming except that the kaingins are rainfed and utilized to produce rootcrops, vegetables, cereals and other crops not grown in the rice fields. The kaingins are permanent and in some cases made part of an inheritance. Some villages and houses today stand on what used to be a community’s kaingin fields.
As permanent farms, kaingins are owned and maintained for as long as the farmer has need for it. If the farmer dies, relatives may continue tilling the land. Before land became too precious in our midst, kaingins and even terraced farms return to the forest or the communal land if it is abandoned. Macli-ing Dulag’s dictum;“Nobody owns the land, the land owns us,” becomes effective. People truly own a piece of land for as long as they steward it well for better causes, for well being and survival.
Today, agriculture in the Cordillera's territory of 17,500 square kilometres is stewarded by a total of 7,793,742 farming households, according to the Bureau of agricultural statistics. Most of these households are found in Benguet, 40,720; Kalinga, 32,700; Abra, 31,768; and, Ifugao, 30,959. Quite unfortunately, the strategies and technologies employed in farming hanker to mass production and increased profits that must continuously increase every cropping season. Except in Abra and Apayao, where ipland (kaingin) rice production is done, we see new challenges in highland farming like the abandonment of rice terraces and the disappearance of highland rice varieties. Most kaingins are now converted into vegetable gardens if not residential areas. Encroachment of the rice terraces for residential and other uses are very evident. With all runaway development taking place and shape, one must ask this time, who really owns the land and for what purpose?
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on August 20, 2013.