I roamed the city’s mountain barangays for many years and that allowed me to forge lasting friendships with some of the farmers there. Soon, I realized the uniqueness of the lives of Cebu farmers and of the kind of exploitation and neglect they went and still are going through. The Cebu terrain is different from those in, say, Bohol and Negros. The forest cover is thin and the mountainsides have steep inclines because of this. Add to that a population that has taken over almost every hectare of land.
Landlords are the absentee type because they live in the lowlands and the city center. There are no “haciendas” to speak of, like in the plains of Medellin, San Remigio, Tabogon and even in Poro town in the Camotes group of islands. Instead, the land is planted with corn, root crops, tomatoes, eggplants, beans and, in certain areas, flowers. And instead of coconuts dotting the terrain like in neighboring Balamban, the Cebu City terrain is dotted with mango trees.
I first noticed this when I stayed in Barangay Sapangdaku. Those trees grow on steep inclines, making them appear taller than they are. Soon, I so became familiar with the difficult process of tending to the trees that when I decided to live a normal life, I thought I could help my farmer-friends by helping finance their source of livelihood.
Tending to the trees is capital-intensive. You begin by observing the color of the leaves for a sign that they are about to bear fruits. Then you buy flower-inducing chemicals and spray them on the tree. The spraying process is primitive and labor-intensive. The chemical is mixed in a container, tied with a rope and then pulled up to a big branch where the farmer is perched. Using an aluminum tube as sprayer, the farmers wet the leaves and the tip of the branches with chemicals. When the container is empty, it is lowered down for another mixture, then pulled up again. The process is repeated until the whole tree is wet with the chemical. The same process is done when spraying pesticides to protect the newly grown fruits.
Weeks after comes the tricky and more dangerous part: wrapping each fruit with paper so insects won’t be able to punch the fruit with their proboscis and suck its insides. The paper used is not just the ordinary one but those used for Chinese newspapers. The material used by local newspapers like SunStar are cheaper but weaker for the purpose.
When wrapping each fruit, the farmers set up a structure made from bamboo from where they can balance themselves while doing their thing. The danger is when the farmer is on top of a tree in a steep incline. One false move and the fall downwards would be lengthier. How many farmers have died or were injured because of the lack of safety gear? Spraying cheap chemicals without protective gear has also resulted in deaths.
And what do farmers get in return? Two-thirds share of the sold fruits which could not make them recoup enough for the money they invested and the danger and difficulties they endure to make the trees productive. The absentee landlord gets a third of the share from all the farmer’s effort. We Cebuanos have a term for that: dawli (dawat sa limpyo).