Sunday, August 01, 2021

Domoguen: Decades of reflection

Mountain Light

I WAS planted at the Department of Agriculture (DA) in 1987 by Secretary William D. Dar, when he headed the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), as its founding director.

If I were a tree on his farm, he watered my career in writing agricultural stories well.

Under his watch at the BAR, this hobby has flourished into a main preoccupation among the other activities he has assigned to me.

Dr. Dar understood every farm and the plants under his care to manage. On any farm, every plant has different needs. Some need extra sunlight and some less. Some need extra water and others less. You cannot give equal amounts of sunlight, water, and fertilizers to all the plants. They will slowly die if you do that.

If you get my point, yes, I attribute who I am at the DA with the nurturing of our professional relationship which began years earlier when I worked with him at the Highland Agricultural Research Center (HARC). In Quezon City, I would not have survived those early years without the love, extra care, freedom, respect, and honesty, and other traits that we shared together in this relationship.

I learned by writing.

I started writing agricultural and rural development stories as a hobby during college. Before joining Dr. Dar at the HARC, I was already a part-time correspondent for the DEPTHNEWS wire bureau.

I continued writing for DEPTHNEWS while I worked at the BAR. At the same time, I managed the Aggie Trends and other in-house publications of the agency.

When I transferred to the Department of Agriculture-Cordillera Administrative Region (DA-CAR), I was quite well equipped to serve as the agency’s information officer. Aside from managing the agency’s in-house publications, I also contributed agricultural development features to the Agriculture Magazine of the Manila Bulletin and other local publications.

During those early years as an information officer at the BAR and DA-CAR, I received several awards from the Philippine Council for Agricultural and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD), Philippine Agricultural Journalist, Inc. and other award-giving bodies for my work.

I believe it was sometime in CY 2000 when I started writing my weekly column, entitled “Mountain Light,” at the Baguio SunStar daily newspaper. This column is published every Tuesday of the week. In those years, I was also writing a column entitled “Hills and Dales” with the Mountain Province Exponent, a weekly newspaper circulated in Baguio City and Mountain Province.

Soon I could not cope with writing for both newspapers, so I opted to write for the Baguio Sun Star only.

The first article I wrote under my “Mountain Light” column was about citrus production in the different agro-ecological zones of the Cordillera. I recall writing about the different citrus varieties and their sweet-sour taste, taking into account the location of the orchard, the minimum amount of day length in the locality, and some technical tips from our local experts on the production of quality fruits.

Those who have been reading my column articles would know that these were written incorporating my personal observation, experiences, and insights on every topic being discussed.

As much as possible, I write science-based column stories. A column article I wrote about rice wine was recognized as the “best feature story” in 2013 by the Jose G. Burgos Awards for biotech journalism.

Writing agricultural stories has helped me understand the technical and social dimensions of rural development. On both concerns, I wondered about the intelligence and wisdom—and how to acquire both in order to succeed with food production under our ruggedly challenging mountain environment.

According to Socrates, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

That is not entirely correct. Knowing our present limitations is smart. But the wise take a few steps forward, do better, and expand our knowledge and ways of doing things.

In farming, agricultural development, and governance, I seek people who isolate and understand the problems and do what is necessary to solve the difficulties and challenges affecting local food production and its accessibility to consumers. Their stories make sense, are relevant and interesting. More importantly, as a knowledge worker, their stories illustrate for me the distinction between knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom.

We all encounter information and data in the environment every day. Agricultural workers in government laboratories and farmers generate information. In any given context or situation, intelligent people can confidently apply what they know to benefit them or other people.

Wisdom, to me, is more interesting. It has more dimensions. A man of wisdom is well informed and understands what he knows and does with the knowledge he possesses based on facts. With wisdom, we become relevant to what we do, where we are.

Secretary William Dar is keen on making the Department of Agriculture (DA) effectively work to improve food production and increase the income of farmers. This thrust responds well to the current situation in the agriculture sector. Most of the nation’s poor come from the ranks of the farmers and fisherfolks. An army of the wise and intelligent workforce in the DA and local government units (LGUs) can change the poverty situation in the countryside following the New Thinking Approach for Agriculture for the Philippines and its eight paradigms.

In the Cordillera, where most of the farmers are smallholders, what the New Thinking Approach for Agriculture seeks is very challenging. However, if small farmers are to survive, they should be able to double if not triple their current production of high quality and high-value food crops.

A number of items included in the 8 paradigms of the DA’s New Thinking Approach for Agriculture had me thinking about Metcalfe's law, a famous principle in network science.

The concept was first used in telecommunication networks that tells us that the value of a network rises with the number of connected users.

In any network, there is a node connected by a link. The number of nodes themselves doesn’t necessarily reflect the value of a network, but the number of links between those nodes does. The existence of so many phones in a place does not make sense and is not that useful. The more they are connected to each other, the more useful they are.

The relationship between smallholder farmers and their organizations in highland agriculture works the same way.

Connected in a network of producers, associations, cooperatives, service providers, traders, suppliers, and financiers make local agricultural livelihoods in the food production and value chain more efficient, important, useful and sustainable. These have been demonstrated by a number of beneficiaries in isolated and geographically inaccessible communities assisted by the Second Cordillera Highland Agricultural Resources Management Project (CHARMP2).

In the past two decades, I have gained and isolated knowledge within a narrow context where it’s addressing a particular problem. Some were broken further allowing me to pick up items to connect to other information and knowledge that were generated over time. Such pockets of information are useful in creating and understanding knowledge and links in managing highland agriculture and development interventions.

I actually entertained repackaging my published articles at the Baguio SunStar over the past two decades in this light. These articles and photos I took in various parts of the Cordillera about farming were packed and stored in the laptop computer that was issued to me by the agency. Unfortunately, this laptop, including my cellular phone and DSLR camera was stolen by a thief in our residence late last year.

The event is certainly disappointing. It brings on a new perspective. I hope to be able to retrieve some of those old stories. At the same time, this time around, I shall refocus my writing on the current challenges of farming, and my new assignments on rural and community development including security in our communities while I work with Secretary Dar as Cabinet Officer for the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR). Who knows, I can yet publish a book about my work as such before the end of the year.


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