IF THERE’S an interesting concept on November 16 in the development of sustainable communities, it is the Sustainable Agro-ecological Village, (Save) being developed in practice by Altertrade Philippines Inc. (ATPI) in Negros and areas where it has local partners.
Disappointed with many of its experiments in sustainable farming, and the havoc on farmers and environment by monocrop farming systems of big sugar farms and huge monocrop banana and pineapple plantation farms in Mindanao, now expanding in Negros, ATPI and its partner small agricultural producers have put forward the Save model.
Save is not really a new concept in the field of sustainable development. I must say it is an integration and further development of various sustainable agricultural and ecological practices, among practitioners of organic and sustainable farming.
As defined by ATPI, Save is a whole system approach to village-based agriculture and food system development giving importance on the traditional practices in agriculture that do not alter the existing ecosystem.
As a micro (village) model, it believes that small initiatives can become bigger and more productive in due time when properly directed and supervised, that all agricultural production and infrastructure development must be geography-specific and ecosystem-based, therefore diversified, that the community must have full control of the land or have security of tenure to ensure steady growth of their initiatives.
After positive outputs from initial assessments done by ATPI after three or four years of Save breakthroughs in four sites in Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental, preparatory works are underway for its replication in ATPI assisted communities in northern Iloilo towns of San Dionisio, Balasan and Carles.
Since 2015, Save breakthrough in different sites takes a varying level of progress and registered common and distinct strengths and weaknesses.
While an in-depth assessment has yet to be carried out to ascertain their impact, there are already a number of indicators that are quite telling about the model.
Among the most noticeable are fast recovery of soil nutrition and ecological set up of the community, effective utilization of community land spaces for production, increase in the producers productivity, increase production of diversified crops and livestock, higher awareness and discipline in the use of nature, water and power through the use of renewable energy like solar-powered water system, ram pump water system, small-scale community-based biomass and organic farming system, improve quality and adequate food consumption.
One inspiring example is the 60 families and cooperative members of Dafwarba in Cabacungan, La Castellana; former sakadas who won their agrarian struggles with awarded mother Cloa for the 87 hectares they used to till as a sugar estate, are now owner-agri producers.
They have decided to keep their lands intact as one farm and developed it into diversified farm according to the ecosystem of the area, thus, portions for sugarlands, forest trees, rice lands, corn, vegetables, livestock and fishponds.
With the help of Altertrade and its partners, they have utilized a ram pump water system, organic farming system, and soon solar-power water system for potable use and additional farm irrigation.
Another outcome whom I consider a qualitative leap in this experiment is the increase in their sense of collectivism, and confidence to chart their own life and future.
On the part of ATPI, Save is the expression of its “food security, food safety and sovereignty” platform. As amplified by ATPI president Gilda Caduya, “Save is our distinct, planned, organized and systematic initiative to contribute to the broader efforts to counter the worsening neoliberal offensives to further plunder our agriculture, indigenous lands, control our entire food system, erode our culture and eventually destroy our national sovereignty.”
Save as primarily initiative of farm growers is also being developed to become an instrument of building the producers and consumers solidarity. At the mature stage of Save, the producers will have the confidence to engage in exchange and distribution of their goods to the consumers they wish to be part of their struggles.
The consumers linked with Save will have a better option to get safe and healthy food. Therefore, the producers have the primary role of building consumers and producers solidarity, while ATPI and its partner fair trade and people to people trade organizations could serve as facilitator-organizers of producers and consumers food movement.
The breakthrough and development of Save is the primary initiative of small agricultural producers and their community. They assume the principal responsibility for its planning, funding, production and post-harvest activities guided by the principles of self-reliance and cooperation. In fact, Save is the core program of the PO-community, and other activities must revolve around Save.
ATPI role is primarily to support service, providing all the necessary orientational, financial, technical, technology, and enterprise assistance to increase the chances of success of Save, which is also a booster to its fair trade business as its partners engaged in production, product development, and marketing.
Save is also seen by ATPI and its partners as the potential embryo of the alternative micro politico-economic system to the prevailing monocrop, chemical and GMO-based agro-industrial plantation farms ruled by local feudal families, big capitalists and TNCs.
When hundreds or thousands of Save are set up in various parts of the island, they will be able to easily create a countermovement that will challenge and re-shape the ruling economic system both in micro and macro levels.
Indeed, as British economist Ernst Schumacher once said, “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.”