What is wrong with sustainable development in the Cordillera?

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By Robert L. Domoguen

Mountain Light

Monday, February 17, 2014


I HAVE been involved in the conduct of development missions for the Cordillera since 1986. That is more than a mouthful to chew.

As part of the latest team that accompanied another recent development mission into the Cordillera lately, thoughts of my involvement in sustainable development interventions for the Cordillera occupied my mind.

What else would one do while traversing our long and winding roads to various destinations, from one community to the other in our interior and marginalized highland communities? I get engrossed with country songs played on the car stereo by our drivers, which is their favourite, besides imagining about the creatures that populated our mountains before.

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My first involvement in highland development started with the conceptualization of the Highland Agricultural Resources Development Project (HADP) in 1986 through the Highland Agricultural Research Center (HARC), a consortium of research and development agencies in the Cordillera. HARC was later renamed HARRC and then HARRDEC.

Initial discussions during the HARC meetings visualized the implementation of the HADP to cover the highlands of the Cordillera.

Ultimately, its implementation focused in the highlands of Benguet and Mountain Province then both provinces were under Region 1. A similar project, called the Central Cordillera Agricultural Programme was to be conceptualized and implemented later, in the provinces of Ifugao and Kalinga but expanded to areas in Abra and Mountain Province not covered by HADP.

In my first development mission, Dr. William D. Dar, first HARC Executive Director, assigned me to join the team of Dr. Benjamin Dimas to the Arabica Coffee growing areas in Mountain Province. My tasked then was to document the team’s on-site validation and consultation activities. The team was comprised of research and extension expert, and one of them was a Caucasian male from New Zealand.

Today, after so many years, there was one insight that I retained from that mission then captained by Dr. Dimas. At that time, he has already developed the “coffee under pine technology,” and he was talking about developing and passing it to the next generation. “Hopefully, those who will come after us will build on the foundations we would have laid down, line upon line, he said.”

The technology developed by Dr. Dimas advises us about the Arabica coffee when grown under the canopy of the pine forest. In effect, it advises highlanders that they need not cut the pines to grow food and industrial crops, which is their usual practice. The practices and the application of the technology has been perfected for decades at the BSU Ampasit Farm before Dr. Dimas retired from government service.

I have seen Robusta coffee also grown under the canopy of broadleaf forest trees in Pasil and Lubuagan, Kalinga. Farmers have since mastered both technologies under the given conditions in their places.

There are several technologies introduced and adopted by farmers from fellow farmers or by well-meaning experts in the locality. What we need to do is simply respect these technologies and build on them. Let us not simply keep on introducing and changing things. For so many years, we have not built appropriate knowledge, memories and histories relevant to the culture of our people or the conditions of the communities that they lived in on solid foundations.

The rice terraces and rice varieties grown there was adopted into our mountains by our ancestors. Rice is a tropical crop that needs a lot of day length to grow and produce its panicles and grains. Day after day, months, years, decades, our ancestors built on the good practices they have learned while engaged in paddy rice production. It was in our generation that we did not like to play this game anymore. It still needs mastering to become a champion in various forms in our time – natural resources management and conservation, tourism livelihood, climate effects, soil and water conservation, etc. Many of us gave up on this heritage and that its time has gone. What disrespect?

Thanks to Mary Hensley, we started rediscovering the benefits and quality of our heirloom rice varieties and converting their production into a “world class” food export and livelihood for our farmers.
Using personal and funding from friends in the USA, Mary simply talked to our farmers and together, laid down the blue print for conserving this legacy and adding another development layer to its growth. She respected what was there, not changing anything but building on it, just like how a championship games are made. She consulted us then in the beginning but we would rather do it ourselves, with our own complex and seemingly educated livelihood and entrepreneurial export development plans and programs. Mary and her group have been in the business for over a decade now and we are still developing our perfect plans, for perfect people that live in perfect places in our remote mountain landscape, and who will implement perfect development programs.

Yes, we have undertaken so many “development missions,” and much development plans and catch-up implementation work has taken shape. I wonder about secure development foundations, meaningful development memories, and sustainable highland development taking shape at this time. I wonder whether we are simply doing more of the same things that cascade into the planting of thousands of tree seedlings but the forest continue to diminish every year; or report several livelihood projects implemented and completed but people continue to migrate from their homes away from families due to the lack of livelihood opportunities.

What is wrong with sustainable development in the Cordillera? Do we know what is it that we must develop and sustain?

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on February 18, 2014.

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