9/19/2010

Where There Is Green There Is Hope

Being an adventurous by nature I did not have a second thought when a business associate asked for my support to organize a farmer's meeting in the country's premiere province in the north - Isabela. A friend's mention of the potential of Sta. Maria, Isabela to market our organic fertilizer lured me to spend a long weekend in the place.

I was thrilled and excited before  our visit to the province. It was my first time to go there and I had no idea about its culture, people, topography, lifestyle. Nothing, except that I know the province is the country's rice and corn granary. Isabela, actually, barely came into my mind, especially the municipality of Sta. Maria that I only heard for the first time.

I did a little homework of researching about the place. Isabela is located at the Cagayan Valley. Next to Palawan, it is the second largest province of the Philippines. I was thrilled to find out that Sta. Maria is the last municipality of Isabela, if you're coming from Manila. It is situated at the border of Kalinga, Tuguegarao City and few hours away from Aparri and the Sierra Madre. The people's source of income is primarily agriculture. Ilocano's are the most prominent group in Isabela, followed by Ibanag and Tagalog. Other ethnic groups include Gaddang, Paranan and Yogad.

The province income is classified as first class. Agriculture is the biggest industry; rice, corn and sugarcane being the major crops. Some farmers are also engaged into cattle and goat raising. Tourism is also being developed in the province.

The Preparation

We were glad and grateful that our partner corporation accommodated our request for the training even though I submitted the formal request  barely two weeks before the event. Thanks to Dennis. Josephine- our contact in Sta. Maria and now a business associate - took charge of the venue, utilities and participants with the help of the Barangay Captain and its Councilors. Tin Hebron  and I prepared the literature, tokens, product and other training paraphernalia.

The training was initially scheduled on August 28, but two days before the event, Josephine asked me if we can reschedule to the next day because they were just blessed with rainfall after a very long period of drought. The farmers will be busy tilling their lands and planting their crops on a Saturday. Barangay Naganacan is not yet irrigated and the farmers there solely rely on rainfall for irrigation. We were thankful that Romeo, our trainer,  granted our request for re schedule two days before the event. I was equally grateful that my Manager and Director both approved my request to take a leave from the office on August 27, Friday (thanks Jai and Ronnie).

The Trip

My excitement shortly turned into fear and apprehensions on the day of our trip. Few days before our trip, bus accidents in the South and the North were on the news. Another thing is, Tin and I really did not know the place. We were only instructed where to board and where to drop. I only completely trust that the LORD will protect us. Tin and I also prayed hard for our protection. We know a lot of friends and family also prayed for us. My fear suddenly turned into thrill and excitement again and positive expectations.

We were supposed to leave Manila at 8:30 pm Friday. But when we arrived at Florida bus station at 5:00 pm, the 8:30 pm schedule was already fully booked. People in Manila were rushing into the provinces for a long weekend. We were booked at the 10:30 pm schedule in a de luxe Florida bus.

We had five hours to wait for our trip schedule. We had enough time to have our dinner, detailed the training program and discuss the instructions and suggestions of our mentor in Greece.

Finally, we were on board the Florida bus. We traveled smoothly. The even road connecting Manila and Isabela allowed us to sleep calmly most of the trip. I woke up when we were entering the Isabela province. Tin was still sound asleep. I witnessed the almost unending green rice fields with a sun cracking on the horizon. Wonderfully beautiful!

We passed through Alicia, Aurora, Burgos, Cabatuan, Echague, Ramon, Quirino, Roxas, San Isidro, Delfin Albano, and a lot of municipalities that I missed when I was asleep.

We've been receiving text messages from Josephine asking for our location. She instructed us to text her when we reach Quezon, so that she can wait for us in the highway.

Our trip seemed unending. We were traveling for more than ten hours and we did not reach Quezon yet.Finally, our bus stop in a restaurant. We were in Quezon!

Tin and I had our breakfast. I was honestly expecting cheaper foods, like the prices in the provinces that I visited. But I found out that prices of food there are far more higher than the prices in Manila. Well, I understand that it's the only restaurant in the place. My only consolation was the food were fresh and delicious and the service was good.

We were already in Quezon, but it still took us another two hours to reach Barangay Naganacan in Sta. Maria, Isabela.


The People

We alighted the bus upon seeing the sign "Welcome to Barangay Naganacan." The people were warm, trusting and hospitable.

We did not know exactly Josephine's house. We waited for her at Aling Helen's Store. We had some time to chat with the people - who happened to be the relatives of Vergel, Josephine's husband, and to promote the training the following day. I always hear from our mentors that building relationship is the key in the business.

Vergel's mother served us pork nilaga and mixed vegetables (patola, malungay, squash flower, etc) for lunch. I love vegetables. When I am in the provinces, I expect to eat more vegetables.

We took a nap after our lunch. Then, we visited Josephine's farm at around 3:00 pm. There, we had newly harvest corn for snack. It was heavenly delicious and tasty.

We had enough time to talk and mingle again with the people.

Tin and I were amazed at the scenery. From where we stood, we saw the rich, unending natural landscape. In the far horizon, we saw the blue sky and the green hills meet. Tin and I were wondering why the hills bordering Isabela and Kalinga were perfectly trimmed.

We saw dots of white on the green hills. Josephine told us that those are cattle being raised on the hills. The riches before us were awfully amazing. I thought farmers in this country could really be rich.

Day Two, The Training Proper

We planned to wake up at 3:00 am, Sunday morning. Josephine has a scheduled planting of sweet potato in the four hectares portion of her lands, and she invited us to go with them. Tin and I woke up at around 7:00 am. We just had coffee and headed to the farm via kuliglig. The people were already there. Vergel cooked Pansit Cabagan. Josephine prepared egg and hot dog. We had our breakfast in the farm.

The people were almost finished planting sweet potato. The spirit of Bayanihan was so evident in the place.

After few hours of integrating with the people, Josephine and I went to Sta. Maria proper - via motorcycle - to buy drinks for the training in the afternoon. Vergel's mother and other relatives were preparing suman for snack. I felt blessed.

There are no jeepneys in Sta. Maria. Public transport are only bus that pass through every hour until 6:00 pm and van until 2:00 pm.

Josephine drives the motorcycle confidently and defensively. We passed through the only gasoline station, the only high school, and the only hospital in Sta. Maria. I did not miss to visit Sta. Maria church and kneel before the altar and asked the LORD for the success of our event at 1:00 pm.

Our professional trainer arrived as early as 12:00 noon. We immediately set up the venue. Our participants were excited to learn vital information about the technology of our organic fertilizer. When it was time for me to present our partner company's marketing plan, everyone were still excited, happy and interested. The event was succesful.

The Awakening and the Advocacy

A friend asked me if my Isabela trip was among my advocacy trips. I said, "no, it is only business and leisure trip." Ironically, I found out that I cannot really separate my advocacy from the business. I am an advocate of organic farming, sustainable agriculture and environment conservation. And we promoted the technology of organic fertilizers and other agricultural products that are plant-based, has anti-oxidants and environment friendly. The farmers told us that their yields has been decreasing every year due to the poor soil condition that resulted from the decades of using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides with harmful chemicals. Tin and I were glad  that our organic products will surely help them. Their soil has to regain its natural fertility and minerals.

We were also reawakened with the long time sentiments of the farmers. With the riches of the lands that we saw, I really believe that farmers in this country should be rich. But after hearing again their stories, Tin and I understand again why farmers in this country remain in their situation.

Their issues go back again from the lack of support from the government, monopoly, corruption and other issues that affect their condition.

The area has no irrigation and proper agricultural infrastructure. What really touched us was when the farmers revealed to us that somebody dictates the prices of their crops (rice, corn and sugarcane).

Notably, the farmers there do not believe that there is a shortage of rice in the country, as the news conditioned our minds.

It is also sad to know that the local government there cannot protect the farmers from the greediness of a big  business tycoon. That gave Tin the idea to help them put up a cooperative, so that they can at least have the power over the prices of their produce. Tin and I agreed that our chance to visit the place is more than business. I takes a lot more.

Going Home

Our trip back home were scheduled at 9:00 am, Monday. However, an interested farmer, who was not able to attend the training wanted to talk to me, early in the morning. I accommodated his request to discuss to him our products technology and our partner corporation's marketing plan, at around 6:00 am! People in the province start the day too early.

After our breakfast, I also taught Josephine the basic of the business. We leave Naganacan at 10:00 am. With us were meaningful experiences, taste of grasshopper and socks of cassava and corn. We visited the cathedral and our partner company's distribution center at Tuguegarao City. I introduce Josephine to the employee's there and also taught her how to purchase products.

Josephine and Vergel insisted that we had our lunch at the only Jolibee in Tuguegarao City. I was silently longing for a more native restaurant. It was only good that the quality of chicken and the serving of rice there is better than any store that I tried in Manila.

We finally left Cagayan Valley at 2:30. The bus was scheduled to leave at 1:00 pm. Vergel just asked the driver to wait for us. We were still at the ADC.

For Tin and I, our Isabela experience commenced our serious expansion and promotion of our organic agricultural products to the provinces. It reawakened us to the hard flight of the farmers, their urgent need for empowerment and education to become entrepreneurs, their fair part in the country's economic game and laws, and to the strong support that the government can offer. After all, they feed us. They feed this nation. It also filled us with awe for the creator, "HE in whose hands are in the inmost depths of the earth, and to whom the peaks of the mountain belong; to whom the sea, which HE himself made, belongs and whose own hands formed the dry land itself (Psalms 95:4-5).

I looked back at Barangay Naganacan as our bus passed through it. I will surely go back in this place. My eyes lingered in the long, green vegetation. I smiled thinking, where there is green, there is hope.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Genial post and this fill someone in on helped me alot in my college assignement. Thank you for your information.

<br><div align = "ceneter">Gospel Reflections: Fifth Sunday of Lent</div></br>

First reading: Ezk. 37: 12-14 “I am going to open your tombs; I shall bring you out of your tombs, my people; and lead you back to the ...