Domoguen: A second Look at 'traditional farming' in the Cordilleras

Mountain Light

ANYTIME, I would relish eating a dish of pinikpikan.

In the Cordillera highlands, pinikpikan refers to the act of beating the life out of a chicken with a stick. As the fowl slowly dies, its blood is not drained but curdled in the flesh and organs of the animal.

The fowl is burned and roasted with its feathers immediately after it has expired. Soon the chicken is washed and butchered for cooking.

A dish of pinikpikan is usually cooked, boiled with etag (native bacon preserved with salt) as the main ingredients.

The dish is best served with herbs, pechay, green onions, or chayote harvested from the backyard.

On other occasions, the dish is cooked with white or black beans.

In Sagada, Mountain Province, you can have a meal of steaming pinikpikan in a local restaurant, served with brewed coffee and hot heirloom rice, preferably the black or red varieties.

Under a pristine environment, in the old days, all ingredients of the pinikpikan were produced under a de-facto organic (traditional) agriculture strategy.

Even in those days, the population was growing and this kind of agriculture fed the people by expanding into the forest.

For instance, from the farm near and around the village, my grandfather cut a forest some distance away and built his rice terraces on the back of a mountain “because the growing clan needs food and inheritance too.”

“Traditional agriculture” then had its ways of making the land productive and controlling pests and diseases was done by employing natural inputs, ways, and means. Over time, the limitations of producing food in this manner were also becoming apparent.

From the stories of the old folks, “traditional farming” is labor-intensive, time-consuming, and could hardly cope with drought, and pest and disease infestation.

Each season, the limited harvest of rice could no longer compensate for the time, inputs and efforts expended for producing the crop which took an average of six months. All other crops, unless grown in newly opened farms, have low yields.

As it is, the “traditional farming” of my ancestors informs my taste, bias, and outlook towards organic farming and its products in many ways.

Organically produced food will always be special as they remind me of my “first foods.” My ancestors sacrificed so much of their lives to produce and make it available under the harsh mountain settings.

It is all the more special today when I recall how “traditional agriculture” is closely associated with the rice terraces teeming with biodiversity.

But “traditional farming” is gone past us now. It cannot be sustained as we have known it in our times. So much has changed along with the rapid population growth, high poverty rates, devastation of natural resources, and extinction of species.

In the reckoning of our rural development experts, agriculture has never been a growth driver in the Cordillera, even if nearly half of the workers in the region are employed by the sector.

The livelihood and living conditions of farmworkers in the region are vulnerable to the effects of climate change now becoming a real problem.

Throughout the years, several farming strategies were introduced in the Cordillera. “Traditional farming,” organic farming, and conventional farming” stand out as the most familiar ones.

Depending on one’s orientation, these strategies must find ways to produce enough food not only for the market but to feed a hungry world. To do that, each of these strategies must be responsible enough to farm as efficiently as possible, produce high yields using less land, and conserve the remaining land and what remains of the forest for biodiversity.

Starting from where we are, farming in our mountainous environment must be done with balance, evidence, and science-based, not simply following marketing hype.

We need to study the best and good practices that emerged from the pursuit of the farming strategies employed in the region, and where appropriate and necessary, use them to our advantage and benefit.

During his visit to the Cordillera as the guest of honor and speaker during the 6th Regional Organic Agriculture Congress, DA Secretary William “Manong Willy” Dar, advised his listeners and the farmers of the region to be smart in farming their lands.

Noting that the soil of the vegetable farmlands of the region is sick, he advised the farmers to use “organic inputs that enhance the microbial ecosystem of the soil, ensuring that plants will have the necessary nutrients for growth, and also improve and sustain soil health.”

He added that nationwide, “the soil’s organic matter has significantly dropped from about 10-15 % to only 1-2 % drastically reducing its productivity potential.”

He suggested that we must employ a more practical farming system of Good Agricultural Practices suitable for the Cordillera region. This system can be more intensive for our limited agricultural lands that produce fewer pollutants, consume less irrigation water, and cause less soil loss.

In a previous engagement with Cordillera autonomy proponents, sponsored by the NEDA-CAR, Dar said that we must not slowly beat out but give life back to our soils.

He said that “there is potential in the region to develop agriculture but research and development must be fast-tracked.

“Research in agriculture can help increase production through innovations and help formulate evidence-based policies,” Dr. Dar added.


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