Monday, June 18, 2018

Organizing for Development: Vegetable Growers of St. Cyril Parish, Quirino

A Wednesday afternoon in Quirino Province, in a church nestled in the foothills of the Cordillera mountains, twenty or so women gather in St. Cyril Episcopal Church to discuss the policies and procedures for their newly formed cooperative organization. Most of the members sustain their livelihoods through vegetable farming, making barely enough to cover household expenses.
E-CARE community organizers walk in to join the meeting. The agenda for the day is to finalize the organization’s policies and procedures for member lending. E-CARE must oversee the process to ensure guidelines are in place so community.

The discussion begins with Jane, this community’s E-CARE project officer, making recommendations for the group and sharing policies of the Receivers 2 Givers program (through which community groups avail of funds which they then grant onto other communities in the program). The organization’s leaders, too, share their ideas, and members evaluate what will be best for their purposes.
The main point of discussion was the amount of share capital members should contribute before being able to borrow from the organization’s funds. Some were unhappy the set amount of individual share capital was so high (10% of the total amount they seek to borrow) because it prohibited them from borrowing a higher amount. However, this policy is necessary to ensure members don’t borrow more than they are able to repay and go into debt. E-CARE must ensure members are borrowing responsibly, so we oversee the fledgling organization’s policy development.

After the meeting, community members share their stories. This woman, like most in the organization, is a vegetable farmer. She appreciates how the AWD trainings
have equipped her with household budgeting skills. She avails of R2G funds and is thankful that the add-on is lower than interest rates of available lending options, so her family can increase their household income to send their children to school.
Another woman also avails of R2G funds to support her vegetable farming livelihood. She has struggled to make payments on time but is working hard to grantback and using skills gained through trainings.

All members share a similar experience: enhancing financial literacy through trainings, increasing their household income through the R2G program. Furthermore, as a whole, the community is enhancing their social capital -- forming bonds of trust and developing their ability to work together.
(Stay tuned -- videos coming soon!)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Happy Filipino Independence Day!

June 12 marks the day which the Philippines gained independence from Spain in 1898, after 350+ years of oppressive Spanish rule. After that, however, the Philippines would be occupied by the Americans for another 50 years before they would fully gain their independence as a nation.

Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, wrote essays promoting political reform under Spanish rule. Although he did not directly advocate for revolution, the uprising was inspired by his works, and he was put to death by the Spanish for treason.

Nationalist writers who furthered his ideology also asserted that any nation should account for itself as an independent member of the international arena. A nation should work to be able to support itself and the needs of its people, not dependent on foreign aid and catering to the wishes of a larger power. This value is captured in the vision and mission of The E-CARE Foundation too, which empowers communities to become self-reliant, harnessing their own strengths, and to in turn help their fellow countrymen.

From a visit to E-CARE's housing project in the Visayas region, which was devastated by supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in 2013. These Filipinos aren't taking a handout, but building their own houses by making their own eco-friendly hollow blocks & selling the surplus to pay for their land. True asset-based development & Receiving 2 Giving transformation!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Celebrating the life of Fr. Mark Ventura

Human rights, indigenous rights and environmental integrity were the advocacies of Fr. Mark Ventura, a Catholic priest who was shot dead earlier this month while blessing children after Sunday mass. His death’s investigation is still pending, yet his activism against mining interests are a likely reason vested interests would want to off him.

I accompanied the contingency of Episcopal priests who traveled to Tuguegaerao to attend the ecumenical service the following Sunday. Speakers praised Fr. Ventura’s life work of attending to the most marginalized communities in the Cagayan Valley and advocating for their rights and wellbeing in the face of mining companies.

Fr. Ventura’s murder fits into a larger picture of targeting environmental and human rights activists. Four months prior, another activist Catholic priest was assassinated. Last year, a vocal bishop was detained as a political prisoner. The government released a list of 600 names of ‘suspected terrorists’ including NGO workers and even UN special rapporteur and human rights advocate, Vicki Tauli-Corpuz. On top of that, the number of extra-judicial killings under the Duterte administration has reached 14,000.

“This administration has gone on for too long allowing extra-judicial killings in the name of anti-drug and anti-terrorist activities,” one priest emphatically pronounced.

Referring to Fr. Ventura’s enemies, another clergy leader raised a good point: “if these people will kill an ordained servant in Christ’s church, then we can be certain they will not hesitate to disregard the rights of the most marginalized among us.”

Inspiring the packed room of family, friends and supporters of Fr. Ventura’s cause, Bishop Wandag of the Episcopal Diocese of Santiago remarked that although Fr. Mark Ventura was killed, his life’s work will not die. The people will not be deterred by intimidation and continue to advocate for community rights and wellbeing.

On the other hand, President Duterte, attempting to discredit the belief that this assassination is related to Fr. Ventura’s activism, has accused the priest of being a womanizer. He even presented a matrix of women he’s accusing the Catholic priest of sleeping with, although previous matrices of his have been found incorrect.

The community is still seeking justice for their beloved priest. Meanwhile, NGOs and communities are still organizing to continue Fr. Mark Ventura’s legacy, championing indigenous rights, sustaining creation and the wellbeing of communities over pollution-related profits.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Why farm sustainably?

Last August before returning to the US, three of us from the E-CARE office in Santiago traveled to San Mateo, Isabela to attend the Phillipine Rice Research Institute’s (PhilRice) Farmer Training School, and to present on how rice cultivation contributes to climate change.

The week prior, we had dropped by PhilRice’s local office to share with them our project idea and talk about alternate wetting and drying (AWD), a sustainable irrigation technique. They were supportive of our initiative and praised AWD for its water-savings benefits and invited us to present on the reciprocal relationship between rice farming and climate change.
Controlled Irrigation: Promotes the right timing of field irrigation, lessens water usage, reduces methane emissions

So we arrived yesterday morning to the open warehouse-type space at PhilRice’s demo farm where 30 farmers were gathered to learn the best practices on land preparation, fertilizer management and greenhouse gas mitigation. During our presentation, I shared with the farmers a brief overview of the mechanics of climate change, the methane cycles in dry vs. flooded fields, and the UN’s approved methodology for calculating emission reductions.

But why is sustainable rice farming so important?

For one, rice is a daily staple for 3.5 billion people (19% of global dietary energy) and a livelihood for 1 billion. As the world’s population increases, so must rice production to meet food security needs. But not without an impact on climate change. Looking back in the past 50 years, GHG emissions from agriculture have doubled.

Rice farming accounts for 10% of the world’s emissions from methane, which is 25x more potent than CO2 in trapping heat in the atmosphere. In Philippines alone, rice farming accounts for 13% of GHG emissions, and all agriculture is responsible for 30% of emissions here. Thankfully the country is working towards meeting its commitment to reduce emissions by 70% by 2030.

AWD is a part of that effort. One hectare of flooded rice fields emits more than 30 tonnes CO2e per year. But by using AWD, field emissions are reduced by nearly 50%.

GHG mitigation isn’t the only benefit, but water conservation is significant as well. While rice occupies 30% of the world’s agricultural land, it uses 40% of irrigation. So using AWD to conserve water by 30% can make water available for household use, industry or more agriculture.
Sharing the same presentation mentioned above to a farmer group at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Batal, Santiago, Isabela.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Back to the Philippines!

After a spell in the States, I’m back in Santiago City, Isabela Province in the Philippines! I’ve been back only one week so far but have hit the ground running with our sustainable rice cultivation project promoting the alternate wetting and drying (AWD) irrigation technique (which reduces methane emissions by 50% and uses 30% less water!).

Getting lost on a community visit to Diduyon, Quirino Province
Along with fellow E-CARE (Episcopal Community Action for Renewal and Empowerment) staff and the Bishop of the Diocese of Santiago, we visited several rural communities for organization development meetings and Receivers to Givers (R2G) fund disbursement. Being situated in the mountains, this required some off-roading and a bit of getting lost on provincial roads but were rewarded with views of green mountains as far as the eye can see.

This tour, I’ve been active with the video camera, interviewing farmers from E-CARE partner communities, capturing harvest time with new mechanization and even touring one of the largest rice mills in the world back in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Stay tuned!  

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Rice for the World

Last post, we learned about rice cultivation's environmental impact. But there is hope for a solution! Alternate Wetting and Drying (AWD) -- it’s an irrigation technique which reduces methane emissions by 50% and water usage by 30%.

In traditional rice cultivation, the fields remain continuously flooded during growing season. The organic matter in the soil (straw, manure, etc) decomposes anaerobically (without air) and releases as a byproduct, methane, a greenhouse gas 25x more potent in greenhouse warming effect than carbon dioxide (CO2).

Transplanting rice in a flooded field -- hard work!

In AWD, the water level is allowed to drop to 6 inches below the top of the soil before irrigating again to 2 inches above soil level. This process of drying the soil and irrigating continues until harvest. Since the soil is allowed to dry periodically, the organic matter decomposes with the help of oxygen, preventing methane from being produced.

This practice has proven to have no negative impact on yield; in fact, in some cases, yields increased. Farmers have also reported that the roots have better anchorage (making them typhoon-resistant). Grains also have a good shape and size, with lower trace amounts of arsenic that naturally occurs in rice.

Moreover, AWD practice reduces methane emissions by 50% on average and decreases water use by 30%. It’s a win-win situation for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Not only are farmers reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, but they are also adopting a climate-smart technique which will better prepare them for water scarcity which climate change may bring.

With decreased water usage, farmers save money in cases where they use diesel-pumped irrigation systems. AWD also decreases conflict between farmers since there is less likelihood of experiencing a water shortage.

The main challenge to implementing AWD will be to break farmers’ deeply entrenched belief that rice is an aquatic plant that needs to be continuously flooded. No easy task where almost all the rice fields are cultivated by smallholder farmers with 1.2 hectares each on average and have been growing rice for generations.

However, AWD has been gaining ground. It’s being adopted in China, Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia. In the U.S., too! In fact, the world’s first carbon credits from AWD in rice cultivation were generated just last month by farmers in Mississippi, Arkansas and California. 

The 5th Mark of Mission of the Anglican Communion guides us in our calling “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” We can live into this mission wherever we are and in whatever we do, whether we are farmers or office workers. For farmers, this means cultivating the land in the best way possible. For an office worker, it may mean shutting down computers to save electricity, turning off lights, reducing waste and recycling and composting at work. Everyday, we have the opportunity to show thanks to God for the beauty and resources He gives us by being good stewards of His creation. Let’s show it!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Climate Change for an Island Nation

In 2012, Philippines was ranked the most vulnerable country in the world to climate change by a German organization. In 2013, we fell to #5, but take a look at the list here and think: who pollutes, and who pays?

Philippines and other tropical, developing countries are positioned to suffer from from the impacts of climate change in terms of fatalities and economic loss from climate-related disasters. 

For Philippines, climate change is expected to bring rising mean temperatures, change in amount and intensity of rainfall, and a change in the number of tropical cyclones. 

The agricultural industry (which accounts for 11% of GDP) is particularly vulnerable since it relies on traditional knowledge and predictable weather patterns. Twelve million Filipinos, or 30% of the labor force, sustain their livelihood in agriculture. A land-owning farmer has about 1.2 hectares, on average. 

For these smallholder farmers, climate change could bring decreased productivity and increased pests and plant disease, which may affect yields. This would be devastating for a farmer, living in poverty, whose entire livelihood is dependent upon the climate.

Thankfully, Philippines is mobilizing to act on climate. Climate change is no joke to Filipinos; they experience it firsthand. With the Filipino environmental ethic, people conserve resources and take pride in being good stewards of the Earth.

For one, the E-CARE Foundation partners with communities and Episcopal Relief and Development to plant trees to absorb carbon dioxide. 

Stay tuned for the next post to explore what other options for climate change mitigation and adaption Philippines is developing!