Sulagad: Indigenous Concept of Food Sovereignty

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The sulagad is the indigenous concept of food sovereignty realized by the Teduray and the Lambangian tribes which is seen as an alternative to the use of inorganic at commercial fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and other chemical-based products that negatively affects the natural fertility of the land as well as the holistic well-being of peoples.

Since time immemorial, the Teduray and Lambangian tribes have practiced this system of agriculture that is stated in their customary laws and traditions called ukit, tegudon and dowoy. The indigenous farmers then maintained the fertility of the land through their cycle of land preparation, planting, growing, harvesting and seed banking. They move from one place to another doing this traditional cycle of farming. With land fertility ensured, the harvest was sufficient enough for the family to thrive and there was even more for the community as farmers gave their Umun or pledge to the tribal political structure. 

But what really is sulagad? How important is it to the survivability of the indigenous peoples. The sulagad is the system of farming that ensures self-sufficiency when it comes to food production. It is evident in the planting of minor crops like vegetables and root crops which can be planted and harvested easily for the consumption of the family. It also includes growing permanent crops like coconut, coffee and fruits which are seasonal for consumption as well as for trading and marketing. Animal husbandry and poultry-raising is also part of sulagad. The indigenous peoples raise chickens, ducks, pigs and cattle which provide meat and can also be used to work the farm.

Through this system, the five basic needs of the family are met. It primarily provides food that is organically grown. With the nutrients and vitamins that the food has, good health is ensured. Through trading and marketing gives capability to send children to school to get good education. With forests still maintained so do sources of raw materials for building shelter and making clothes.

However, this traditional system of farming is now threatened by the development and modernization of agriculture in the country which has introduced chemical farming that do not only destroy the farmlands but also adversely affected the forests and watersheds. It was in the period of 1990-1995, when the entry of chemical farming in the indigenous communities intensified. As indigenous peoples’ lives are deeply attached to the land with 70% of the population of Teduray and Lambangian are farmers, the drastic change in climate and weather patterns as well as the change in means and mode of production, the agricultural production of the tribes is greatly altered. From good harvest to barely having any and the vulnerability from the excesses of the market forces, the indigenous peoples’ capacity to survive as peoples with enough food on the table have become very uncertain.

Thus, the Timuay Justice and Governance, the indigenous political structure of the Teduray and Lambangian tribes has gradually regained and strengthed the sulagad system of agriculture as an alternative to chemical farming and growing of genetically-modified organisms. With support from international as well as local NGOs, several sustainable agriculture trainings were conducted and now the tribes have their own indigenous agriculture experts who are presently practicing as well as teaching the sulagad to maintain the ecological balance for the present and future generations of the Teduray and Lambangian.

One of these trainings was the training-workshop on sustainable agriculture and organic farming given by the Kilusang Maralita sa Kanayunan the to fifty-eight (58) indigenous Teduray and Lambangian farmers from the municipalities of Datu Odin Sinsuat, North Upi, and Datu Blah Sinsuat in the province of Maguindana in 2012. The main objective of the five-day training was to provide necessary technologies to enhance the system of sulagad against the constant threats of modern chemical farming and introduction of genetically-modified organisms that strips off the natural fertility and productivity of the traditional agricultural lands and discontinues the use of indigenous seeds respectively.

Through the technical support of the practitioners and agriculturists of the Convergence of NGOs and POs in Zamboanga del Sur for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (CONZARRD), technical knowledge and skills on organic farming at upland farming system through four crash courses on Sloping Agriculture and Land Technology (SALT). This technique which other communities in the country applied proved to be successful as soil erosion was minimized, soil fertility restored, crop yields were sustained and improved income for upland families was generated. Hence, it was this particular technology that was seen as the most fitted to apply in the areas of the Teduray and Lambangian which are mostly located in the highlands.

SALT is a simple, applicable, low-cost method of upland farming. It is a scheme developed for small farmers with few tools, little capital and little knowledge of modern agriculture. It is basically a form of alley farming in which field and perennial crops are grown in bands 4-5 m wide between contoured rows of leguminous trees and shrubs. The latter are thickly planted in double rows to form hedgerows. When the hedge reaches 1.5-2.0 m in height, it is cut back to 40 cm and the cuttings are placed in the alleys between the hedgerows to serve as mulch and organic fertiliser or green manure. Rows of perennial crops such as coffee, cacao, citrus and banana are planted on every third alley created by contoured hedgerows. The alleys not occupied by permanent crops are planted alternately to cereals (e.g. com, upland rice or sorghum) or other crops (e.g. sweet potato, melon or pineapple) and legumes (e.g. mungbean, string bean, soybean or peanut). This cyclical cropping provides the farmer with several harvests throughout the year.

Because of SALT’s initial success, three more SALT variants have been developed. These are Simple Agro-Livestock Technology (SALT-2), Sustainable Agroforestry Land Technology (SALT-3) and Small Agro-fruit Livelihood Technology (SALT-4).  All these four courses were complemented with the techniques in making organic fertilizer using indigenous materials that are found in the forests and surrounding of indigenous communities, natural composting, vermi cast production, natural pest control and seed banking/vaulting.  Along the process, traditional methods of the sulagad were also integrated in the technologies so as the knowledge and skills will only complement what is already practiced in the sulagad and will not completely alter it.

Source: Tri-Peoples’ Journal Online

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