Indigenous youth lead action for Mindanao forests and farms

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Community spirits were high in Sitio Nabag-o, a village in the Upper Pulangi area in northern Bukidnon, Philippines, as gulang (high school) students from the Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center (APC) school in Bendum led tree-planting and gardening activities during a Tapok (youth summit) at the APC Nabag-o school. This was a different Tapok from previous ones because the event was also a Bentela daw Sayuda, a Pulangiyen practice of visiting and sharing knowledge or information. Gulang students shared with members of the Nabag-o community their knowledge about forest and water management and organic agriculture learned during their Natural Resource Management subject.

The morning was a celebration of Pulangiyen cultural values as the entire community in Nabag-o enthusiastically participated in the fieldwork. Fathers helped Grades 7 and 9 students as they plowed the area at the side of the school for conversion to vegetable garden plots. Mothers and their children accompanied Grades 8, 10, and 11 students in carrying the bagged seedlings and planting these in different areas around the school. The younger children helped collect dried leaves for composting and listened intently to their Ate (older sister) and Kuya (older brother) as they explained the value of waste management.

The vision is a future under the forest canopy

In the afternoon, APC gulang students held a plenary session with community members where the students shared methods and practices in organic farming and in Assisted Natural Regeneration (ANR), an approach in forest and water management that allows natural forests to regrow with assistance.

Gino Suldahan, a Grade 10 student, explained the step-by-step process in ANR from area clearing to mapping, to making a management calendar. Grade 11 student Edward Walo talked about their technical subject on Bamboo Production and Processing for Sustainable Construction. He shared the cultural value and uses of bamboo as well as its role in improving the infiltration along with water recharge areas.

Finally, Marjohn Linggay, from Grade 9, explained the value of organic farming. He said that while inorganic practices in agriculture do lead to faster and easier crop production, community members should also look at the impact of chemical-based farming on the environment and to the health of people. Marjohn emphasized the value of organic agriculture not only to food security and health but also its role in the management of the forest and waters.

In deepening the inputs of the students, Jason Menaling, Forest and Gaup Management team leader and NRM teacher, added that Indigenous Peoples need to continue to reflect on their understanding of the interconnectedness of forest and water to their cultural identity.

“Our landscape is connected to our source of livelihood. We need to look for sustainability more than anything for the future generation, not only for ‘myself’ but for ‘all’,” he said.

He further pointed out the need to slowly understand and learn natural resource management as a process of accompaniment, to live sustainably with other creations and as an expression of gratitude to the Migtanghaga (Creator).

Afterward, the gulang students facilitated a workshop with the community members to develop management policies and a calendar of activities for the new ANR and garden areas. The community members then identified key people who will lead the monitoring and implementation of their policies and scheduled activities in the calendar. At the end of the day, the engagement between the APC gulang students and Nabag-o community members resulted in six garden plots prepared and 192 pillar species and 12 giant bamboos planted.

In their closing message, the students of APC Bendum expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to visit and learn with community members in Nabag-o. They shared their hope that what they started are not just the seeds planted, but also the sense of solidarity and interconnectedness in their relations, so that these may grow and be sustained.

In thanking the APC students in return, the parents in Nabag-o shared that they recognize the drastic changes in their landscape brought about by corn farming and how this has affected their land and river, and, consequently, their way of living. They are striving to build a better future for their children. With the new ANR and garden areas, they see a new source of hope and energy in seeking a more sustainable way forward that is grounded on gagaw hu mga pigtanghaga (love for creation).

Source: Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC), Bukidnon

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