RURAL development initiatives in the Cordillera highlands continue to put agriculture and conservation of natural resources central to the realization of their goals and objectives.
To our people living in these harsh terrains, agriculture and its natural resources are our heritage. They are also our future.
Our ancestors built rice terraces in between the forest along steep slopes and in the valley floors. These structures along with the elaborate irrigation canals are dependent on the forests to keep their farms teem with life.
With a sense of nostalgia, I continue to imagine the village of Fedilisan as my genesis. My parents were born there.
I used to visit the place when my grandparents were still alive. The village had its distinct seasonal flavors. The scent of Pidlisan coffee (it is an Arabica Typica variety) fills the air when the trees are in full bloom in January.
But any day of the year, the scent of brewed coffee fills you up early morning while you walk on cobbled stone pathways around the village every morning to visit a friend or to go the farms.
All year round, the rice fields emit earthily and rice flavors carried by the breeze into the village. The turning of the soil during plowing and fertilizing also generate a unique scent associated with compost.
From planting to harvest, the scent of the farm and the change in the colors of the rice plants tells the farmer that the irrigation needs to be reduced, or has gone dry.
The colors and flavors of the rice plants at various stages attract insects, rodents, and birds. The villagers know what to do to protect their harvests and survive.
A quote from Ben Logan’s book, “The Land Remembers,” gets refreshed in the mind every time I visit Mountain Province. “Once you have lived on the land, been a partner with its moods, secrets and seasons, you cannot leave. The living land remembers, touching you in unguarded moments, saying, ‘I’m here. You are part of me.”
Cradled by the land and nature, our villagers still had so much work to do, so much beauty around them to appreciate, and so much of life with nature to live and to share together.
It will always be great for city folks like me to want to go back to that aspect of village life and reminisce the old nurturing and caring ways of our old folks in a land that use to abound with plenty and healthy food.
I wish that is not just a memory now. So much has changed these days. The old ways are gone. Population continues to grow. Agricultural land and production are on the decline. The carrying capacity of the land is reaching its limits and healthy balance.
But if the land remembers, it has often called on this wanderer to return home, time and again, in mind or in person to that ancestral village in Fedilisan.
I know that we have properties there but it is more of the mind that I belong here in this place. What truly remains, wherever I am, are spiritual and nature’s changing seasons and cycles of life. They form part of my identity.
On the whole, our highland villages have totally changed from their agricultural and village governance beginnings to a modernized set-up patterned after the Republican government adopted by the Philippines from its conquerors. In the process, many indigenous traditions and cultural practices for the conservation and protection of natural resources were neglected and forgotten.
Meanwhile, the population in our villages is yet expected to grow, along with the influx of tourists, significantly increasing the need for housing and commercial development.
Clearly, our villages, barangays, and towns need to look at new and better ways to balance growth while protecting what remains of the farm and natural resources, particularly our watersheds and forestland. The food, agriculture and “bio” future of the Cordillera, even the whole of Northern Luzon depend on our actions in this direction.
From the plateaus to the hidden and occupied valleys of our towns, to the steep slopes of our mountain ranges with its rich forests and fragile ecosystems, rivers and streams, ours is a diverse, vibrant and beautiful land. It is its strength. But with the water of the Chico and all other river systems now hardly flowing during summer but rampaging with silt with the coming of the rains, that diversity, its beauty and unrealized economic benefits for fisheries, food production, power generation, tourism, and education are fast disappearing.
If there is anything we would have learned from the past, it would be how people as a community in this part of the globe, survived and worked together to address common concerns. They depended on their elders, whose collegial decisions and opinions enhanced, strengthened and sustained community best practices in agriculture, natural resources conservation, and community survival as a whole. With their elders, clans, and families they acted and cooperated together to build community infrastructures like irrigation canals, foot-trails, foot-bridges, roads, even homes of members, among others, when necessary.
These are good pointers for the pursuit of community and rural development in the Cordillera from the past and remain very relevant and sound.
Let us mobilize from below, starting with our villages, if we must succeed in advancing development and genuine progress for our people.