ESSA Mindanao Cluster visits Katandungan Ancestral to do Farm Analysis and Plant Donated Coffee Seedlings

By Philip Somozo

The Katandungan Ancestral Land Site Analysis and Farm Plan activity was twice postponed, first due to covid-related restriction and second due to unforeseen mishappenings. It was finally conducted on January 9-10, 2021. It is the follow-up activity to the learning visit of key Katandungan farmers to the Binahon Agro-Forestry Farm in Bukidnon that was mainly supported by ESSA. This specific activity was also supported by ESSA, particularly the purchase of at least 200 coffee seedlings mixed with varieties of other tree species. Operational budget in terms of transportation, communication, and food for the volunteer during community visits and preparatory activities were also provided for by ESSA.

Coffee was selected by KFA farmers and Binahon as intercrop for the much-needed contour farming over denuded slopes. Most farmers already know how to grow food crops for consumption, but coffee is a medium-term crop that could address farmers’ contouring (topographically) and financial needs.

Day 1, January 9

At 2:00 pm, consultant Datu Henry Binahon arrived in the residence of Datu Felimon Campong with a load of mostly Arabica coffee seedlings mixed with variety of native tree species. KFA’s order was for 200 seedlings but Binahon brought along 300. Binahon arrived with a seasoned treeplanter, Vards Estrada. The two were welcomed by Datu Campong and ESSA volunteer Phillip Somozo. After introductory exchanges, it turned out that Estrada has Higaonon blood from his mother. Higaonon is an indigenous tribe in northern Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental.

The seedlings were unloaded with the help of Datu Campong’s eldest son and three grandsons. All the while, Binahon explained how to take care of the seedlings and the other species he brought along. Afternoon coffee was served as Campong and Somozo discussed the rest of the day’s activities and the modest accommodations for the 2 guests. This being done, the group proceeded to visit the farm of Elito “Dodong” Castillo and his wife Eman, located in an isolated gully accessible only by a 20-minute walk from a barangay road. They interacted with the consultant through question and answer exchanges.

The farm has good spring water and the soil is dark and looks good. Farm-owner Dodong has many survival crops but not much of the type that could earn financially. Having noticed the many fruiting papaya trees, Binahon asked Dodong if he sells the fruits. No, Dodong replied, he has no means to reach prospective buyers, so, all his papaya goes only to consumption, which is good healthwise but not in addressing his financial needs as family man.

Only a particular sloping portion needed contouring as other parts still have stable vegetative cover, including trees, both wild and planted. At the bottom of the gully is a creek that has a small waterfall. Across is a forest with a cave that is planned to be developed into tourist destination by the Barangay. The area is supposed to be a forest reserve, but another informant says it has been sold by the local tribes and bought by a wealthy outsider.

Binahon’s companion, Vards Estrada, a founder of the Mindanaoan native tree enthusiasts’ organization, SONATA, immediately noticed the many wildlings of Lawaan scattered on the ground. A rare Katmon tree was also identified. Dodong stated there are many more native tree species across, which means the area could be a good source of seedlings of native species. 

Noticing that Eman had a number of potted strawberry seedlings, Binahon readily offered to buy all of them. Eman expressed happiness and gratitude for her unexpected income. Before sunset, the team returned back to Campong’s residential house, had supper of souped organic native chicken, fried vegetarian meat, and rice as their conversations continued.

Day 2, January 10

Sulatan Farm

The day officially began before breakfast with early morning farm visit to Jun Sulatan’s—an 8-hectare tract of land he commonly owned with his mother and siblings. A Dutch national, Hugo Peek, married to a Filipina that has a farmlot in neighboring Sitio Puting Bato, joined us. He is vegetarian and also an organic agriculture advocate.

The land is a plateau with springs and creeks running alongside it. Soil near the water is apparently rich, and the water’s origin, according to Campong, is the massive lime boulder eminently rising near Jun’s farm. The boulder, he said, has cave-ins that store water underneath—a natural rainwater cachement. Looking at it, this author had a feeling we were just staring at the tip of an iceberg-like immensity. The boulder, according to Campong, is a sacred place and has a historical significance to Barangay Baganihan. It is mostly covered with vegetation but some of the peripheral vegetative cover has been exploited by humans. Presently, there is no apparent monitoring, protection, and preservation system installed, which makes it a candidate for “protective landscape” classification under the NIPAS Act.

Jun made use of his bountiful water source by building a small pond for his many ducks. He had a grove of bananas intercropped with cacao and other fruit trees. Binahon, noticing the lack of maintenance practices, gave Jun a number of pointers to make the trees more productive. Other than what was described above, Jun’s farm is far from being optimally productive. His conventional corn-growing efforts resulted to not much except degenerate the patch of tilled and chemically-applied land. There is so much room for improvement and development.

Datu Felimon Campong Farm

After Sulatan’s, the group passed through and hiked downhill around a wide slope, following a newly-opened dirt road, crossed a creek, and reached another wide slope that led to Datu Felimon Campong’s farmhouse. Late breakfast was served as discussion relative to observations made ensued.

Campong’s farmhouse is occupied by his daughter Perline—a participant of an Inner Conditioning Workshop conducted early March 2020. Living with Perline is husband Dodong Villanueva and little daughter Tareg. Datu Campong’s farmlot is about 20 hectares. Unlike most other community members that are left with very little or no lands because they’ve sold them, Campong has been able to keep his intact by virtue of his being a tribal elder and therefore, knowledgeable of key IPRA provisions that prohibit selling of lots within the ancestral domain as covered by CADT.

Ceremonial tree planting was conducted after breakfast with the participation of Tareg. The team then proceeded to the bottom of the hill where the Kulaman river runs. The narrow river serves as territorial boundary between North Cotabato and Davao; across it is already part of Arakan town, North Cotabato.

Datu Felimon led the way, at same time explaining to the consultant and other guests his farm’s details. He and Binahon had a good conversation, particularly on slope farming and what species would be ideal for contouring. Campong readily picked up Binahon’s farm recommendations because while the former has had training in sloping agricultural land technology some time ago, he had not been able to apply his learnings. It was towards lunchtime when the team retraced their steps back to the newly-opened dirt road by the adjacent slope from where we came. This area is actually a communal farm being established by Datu Campong’s nephew.

Brother Deo Campong Communal Farm

Deo “Jojo” Campong, one of the KFA members who benefited from the ESSA-sponsored learning visit to BAFF, is a lay leader of a Christian sect. He is presently establishing a farming community in Katandungan that he intends to be organic. His area looks bigger than that of his uncle Felimon. However, unlike the other farms the team visited earlier, this one does not seem to have abundant water supply.

By now feeling the fatigue of going down, round, and back uphill, the team eagerly had lunch. Binahon did not waste time when everybody had eaten. He was ready for his input on Farm Planning. Sheets of manila papers were taped over the wooden door and pentel pens were handed to him.  He began by pointing out that “Needs” are the basis for formulating a farm plan. Soliciting out the felt needs from his audience, he listed them down. From there he proceeded to present how to address those needs by first creating a farm plan. Because of the sloping topography, diversified contour farming was stressed. He also illustrated and explained how organic farming starts from the household, particularly from the kitchen. The use of water did not stop from the sink but continued on to the ground to create a pond where diverse lifeforms would benefit and also provide food and income for the family.

Estrada later joined Binahon in encouraging the farmers to establish seedling nurseries. This came about because one of the people present was a tribal leader from an ancestral domain in another district where an intact forest is present. The guest participant disclosed there are plenty of native tree wildlings in their forest. These, of course, could be gathered, potted in a nursery, and sold to tree planters, individuals, or private companies. Estrada committed to provide nets, seedling bags, and some garden tools like shovel and trowel for the establishment of a nursery in Datu Salumay. Everybody listening to the open discussion understood that it only takes coordination to bring seeds and wildlings from ancestral domain forests to the nursery so that they could be sold for the benefit of involved farmers as well as the tree planters and Nature as well, in general. Nursery establishment, thus, emerged as the focal point of planning discussion, not only for contouring purposes but income generation too. There was consensus that Campong’s big residential lot along the national highway is ideal location for the nursery where guests and passersby may purchase native tree seedlings. Somozo and Datu Campong further cited that they intend to put up another nursery in the farm where seeds may be germinated and young seedlings may be taken special care of before they are transplanted for contouring or transferred to the national highway for selling purposes. 

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