ASEAN INTEGRATION:The inevitable is here

ARCHIVED: 2014. First Published in AGSHAN Community Newspaper. November 2014

This Editorial was written for the Agshan  (2014) a locally and academically produced community newspaper in La Trinidad, Benguet.

The ASEAN Integration was expected to happen by the year 2015 among the 10 member countries of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). With this, how are the grassroots being considered as stakeholders of the integration. How it will bridge development?

One of the key issues ASEAN is dealing with is the development divide within and across member countries. Several critiques say that this is clearly manifested by the huge disparity in per capita GDP (income) and other dimensions of human development such as life expectancy, literacy rate, and poverty incidence. How are the grassroots able to see themselves within these dimensions? As stakeholders, what can we do to narrow the gap so that we can participate in the integration?

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The ASEAN Integration targets an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by the end of year 2015 which follows the timeline on ASEAN Vision 2020 aiming: “to transform ASEAN into a stable,prosperous, and highly competitive region with equitable economic development, and reduced poverty and socio-economic disparities.”

Certainly, ASEAN 2015 was just the beginning of a lenghty effort integrating not only members of a single nation to end the vicious cycle of poverty and other issues around it. This time the whole region of Southeast Asian nations are involved. With that we have to be more equipped and empowered. The integration is inevitable. It requires the Philippines to be competitive in several aspects.

We are an agricultural country. Competitiveness will be triggered from the agricultural sector. With the removal of tariff and other protection to domestic products, there is a high possibility of losing the completion if low quality of production and packaging persist. Who will suffer then?

Now that the AEC considers food,agriculture and forestry as key components in the integration, our country, through the Department of Agriculture, is preparing the Filipino farmers to become more competitive…

Farm mechanization, irrigation, and financing are now included in the farming sector’s road map of the government.

Good as it seems we have to consider concerns raised by other groups who oppose the planned participation. The integration raises fear that land-grabbing, hunger, and poverty would worsen due to tariff issues that may flood the local market with highly subsidized agricultural products of other ASEAN nations like Thailand and Vietnam. How should the government address this then?

It all boils down to the readiness of both people and the government in terms of support to the local production processes, and marketing among others.

Whenever the state carries out  development efforts such as improving infrastructures, investing in both business and foreign trade, making new policies, every stakeholders should ensure that every Filipinos reap the benefits.

Each one has then the responsibility to check how these efforts are carried out in the communities. The answers to the question lies in everyone as responsible citizens. We have to be observant gaining awareness and being informed properly. In this way we are empowering ourselves. Being vigilant if how policies are implemented and how it will affect in the future.

In terms of support, continuous patronizing local products will help local producers improve their products through communicating suggestions and giving inputs, helping them create networks and market links.

Different sectors should focus now on building partnerships to strengthen local production practices and principles of local farmers and producers.

 

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Picking The Crimson Crop: “Plotting the Future for the Benguet, Strawberry Farms”

ARCHIVED: June 17, 2015. First Published @ Eternal Student; 2017. Grassroots’ Advocate @ Blogger

Eternal Student- Plotting the Future for BSU Strawberry Farms (June 17, 2015)

The Strawberry Farm’s crimson crop could lose its cream if potentials will not be given the attention it deserve.

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Crimson Crop. Celebrated in La Trinidad, on the month of March is the Strawberry Festival. The strawberry is one of the primary crops produced in the town of La Trinidad, Benguet in the Philippines.

The strawberry farm remains to be one of the main destination for tourists in La Trinidad Benguet where its farmers found an avenue to sell their crop. Local producers and farmers who uses the land provided by the Benguet State University (BSU) gained the opportunity to bring their harvests and other goods to the national market where tourists comprise the large portion as their consumers.

/this article is written for Development Communication Internship Program, by G.Mansilla & J. Caranay DEVC students/

 “I came all the way from Cavite just to see the strawberries”, says Nica Torres one of the many tourists who visited the Strawberry Farm to see and buy fresh strawberries and experience first-hand picking from the strawberry patches. This crimson crop of the valley attracts people from different places and have introduce them to Benguet Province’s other attractions as an agri-destination.

The fact that the people themselves are the ones who get to pick the berries straight from their patches keeps people coming from different regions of the country to the Cordillera region. The Strawberry Farm reminds the locals and visitors that Baguio City is not the only source of vacation hotspots in the North. La Trinidad is just among other municipalities in Benguet that offers out of town experience to many travelers and visitors.

Grassroots’ Advocate

There are about 42 farmers who lease farms at the BSU Strawberry Farm.  According to Prof. Danilo P. Padua, former director of the BSU Business Affairs Office and Strawberry farming and production research expert, BSU’s priority is to lend the land to the farmers and allow them to develop their own area in the way they want.

BSU rents out the land to farmers at 15 pesos per square meters in a year. “We rent the land but we put up the stalls, and the farmers are in charge of maintaining and improving the land they rent (Nirerent lang namin yung lupa tapos kami na ang gagawa ng stall at yung sa mga farmer yung lupa nila na nirent ay bahala na sila mag ayus o gawin ang gusto nila.), according to Myrna Akilit, a stall owner at the Strawberry Farm for more than ten years now.

According to Dr. Jones Feliciano, Vice President for Business Affairs of Benguet State University in an interview, the main purpose of the Strawberry Farm is to serve as an income generating project (IGP) of BSU.

As cited on the official website of BSU the Strawberry Farm is included in one of the 21 income generating projects of the University that supplement the subsidy it receives from the General Appropriations Acts (GAA). The IGPS include Bakery, Food Processing Center, Souvenir and Gift Shop, Marketing Center, Multi-Vegetable Production, BSU Garments, RSDC Canteen, Strawberry Restaurant, the Gladiola Center, Agricultural Land Use, Commercial Space Use, Sariling Sikap Program, Strawberry Production Project, Guestels (HMEG), and SLS Canteen, among others.

One of the farmers located at the BSU ATIB-IC shared that the area where they are farming is under development. Farmers in located at the front entrance of the Strawberry farm undergoes training and research for improvement. “Kaming mga farmers ang mag-dedevelop ng farm namin. (We are farmers are the ones who would develop our farm.)”, he said.

Top Tourism Spot in La Trinidad

The Strawberry Farm also brings tourism opportunities for the municipality of La Trinidad. Among other strawberry farms in the municipality, the BSU Strawberry Farm has the widest land area and production of strawberries.

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Strawberry Taho. A local Filipino food enjoyed traditional as a morning snack. Many small-scale grassroots entrepreneurs makes profit from taho. The Cordillera region has its own version with the strawberry flavor.

“Tourists can see our products, like strawberry taho, from social media. With this they are magnetized to visit Benguet. (Yung mga tinitinda namin nakikita ng mga tao sa social media. Nahahatak nila mga turista dito sa Benguet.)”, says manong Bruce Castillo a taho vendor at the farm for more than ten years.

The Department of Tourism Cordillera Region have been listing the Strawberry Farms as one of the top most visited site in Benguet for many years. Further , it has been included as part of the Baguio City tour itinerary since the city’s tourism boom.

To visit or not to visit again?

Despite the benefits of being a tourist destination, there are few concerns from the vendors around the farm and the visitors.

“The Number one problem here is the lack of parking lots, but because this is the property of BSU their approval should be sought first”, explains manong Bruce. “Lack of trash bins is also a problem…”, he added, “…the trash of the tourists were scattered because they do not know where to throw so it affects the beauty of the place.”

A farmer suggested to pave the pathways along the strawberry farm. He added that tourists complains about the muddy passageways. “This has been, apparently, a plan way, way back but it’s not yet implemented”, he shared.

Lack in advertising is also a problem as observed by the residents. People from different places thought that the farm is located in Baguio City. Also, during strawberry festival, tourists were not as many as during Panagbenga or other famous festivals in the country.

Aside from strawberries, the farm also produces lettuce, broccoli, sweet peas, beans, some varieties of flowers that grows in Benguet. These are the products the tourists see and buy especially during the rainy season when strawberries are not available.

La Trinidad Strawberry Farm overtaken?

Strawberries require a specific climatic condition to grow. However, other provinces like Davao and Bicol have strawberry farms now. Photos of these farms posted in the internet would show that they have wide strawberry farms with green houses. Davao plant the berries in a bamboo stalk to prevent the strawberries lay on the ground also to provide a walkway conducive for visitors exploring the farm. Bicol on the other hand, focused on the aesthetic aspects of their strawberry farm. They have photo booths and good signage and designs in their view deck and entrance.

Dr. Feliciano also believes that BSU’s strawberry farm needs a lot of improvement but the University still needs to seek assistance for funds. “We requested to the accounting office for enough fund for the improvement of the farm. We need to improve it because it is the main tourist attraction of the province of Benguet particularly La Trinidad so by all means we need to develop it.”

“I do not believe that other places can surpass our strawberry farm. If they’ll produce strawberries in the low land, it will be for temporary production since we can only provide the needed climatic condition by nature to grow strawberries. They cannot come up with the kind of quality we produce here in Benguet”, Feliciano added.

Plotting the plans of the farm

For the past few years the Benguet State University and its co-stakeholders are looking out on improving the state of the farm.

Dr. Padua, had headed a group from BSU who wants to improve the farm for tourism purposes. According to him, they passed a draft to the BSU administration for the development plan with the help of a Canadian expert.

The development plan includes producing new varieties of strawberries, installing more trash bins inside the farm for cleaner environment, and having a good source of water.  The farm is also in need of green-houses too to produce strawberries even in rainy seasons. CRs, information desk, uniform stalls, good view deck, wider parking lots and establishing a restaurant to improve the tourism is also part of the plan.

“We had the draft but they didn’t give us a go signal to push the development plan”, Dr. Padua said.

Dr. Feliciano also enumerated the things UBA wants to improve for the improvement of the farm. These are: sourcing out a good portable irrigation system, very good view deck, road system, drainage canals, comfortable comfort rooms, restaurant that will cater the needs of the tourist going to the farm, very good parking area, and green houses.

“The plans will be implemented at soonest possible time. We are trying to source out financers because that requires a multi-million cost of project to develop”, Dr. Feliciano answered.

Season of Implementation

UBA and Padua’s team has the same views on what to improve in the farm. The plans were broadcasted during the BSU Kapihan 2013. But as observed, the farm now, two years since the plans were constructed, the aesthetic aspect of the place only got worst.

The La Trinidad Tourism Plan has already been approved since the first quarter of this year, although we understand that BSU have their own plans for the site. “Implementation lang ang hinihintay. (We are only waiting for implementation), says Valred Olsim, Municipal Tourism Officer.

There are four main projects which are included in the Tourism Plan in which BSU’s approval and intervention are paramount. These are, beautification of CR, building of view decks, good parking lots and landscaping of the farm/parking area.

The plan was created through the efforts of several stakeholders which compose the Tourism council of La Trinidad. The council includes representatives from Benguet State University, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Local Government Unit, Barangay councils, Non-Government Organizations and private sectors.

//J. Caranay & G.Mansilla@Grassroots’Advocate (BSU-DEVCOMM). (Copyright2015)

 

THE STREET RUNNER: She is running for her life….

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This is a story of  a woman who has to face the battle against authorities on the streets in the locality of Baguio city, Philippines. This is her story kept from the past, and her story still represents those who are like her today, who have to keep running to save themselves and their families’ living.

“I can. I will run as long as I still can. I will endure running for my family, so that they will have something to eat, for them to live“, said 61 years old Mary Angfosen, a native of Mt. Province, Philippines.

From her hometown Manang Mary came to live in Baguio city as a sidewalk vendor. She had to sell her vegetables where many people would pass by her and see her basket of vegetables. There will be a greater chance that the goods she was selling would be sold if she would roam around the streets.

The vegetables looked good. It was in the late afternoon and the crops displayed on her tray were still fresh. She sells pechay (green chard),  still vivid-green and leafy bundled together and have no signs of being withered. The beans and the peas were looking crisp and spotless on their surface that was obvious on the beaming late afternoon sunlight.

Pechay, beans… sangapulo lang, tumbok ading (Pechay, beans, only for ten pesos per bundle)”, invited Manang Mary to the people passing her at one corner of the side-walk in Mabini street. This has been her spot every afternoon. “ We will run if there are the POSD’s. We need to transfer from one place to another everyday”, she shared.

With her basket of oranges, “Manang” has to master the skill of running while carrying kilos of fruits each day. As she tries to escape the “P-O-S-Ds” (Public Order and Safety Division officials) roaming in the city streets, it is the only way for her to make sure she sells all her goods to sustain her family.

The POSD stands for Public Order and Safety Division officers of Baguio city who were in-charge of keeping the streets free from sidewalk vendors; For they were believed to cause the garbage issue in the city. Manang Mary and the vendors like her are affected by the policy of the city government, which started several years ago to clear all sidewalks from vendors.

 “We rented a stall at Hilltop Block 4, but there were only few people who go there so only few buy our goods. That is why we have to go here where the crowd is located to sell everything we had”, according to manang Mary. From Hangar market she will get 10 kilos of pechay, 5 kilos of beans, and 3 kilos of peas. According to her they have to sell all the vegetables joining a group of vendors who helps out each other in selling.

From the main stall where they get the vegetables from the businessman who will give them 1000 pesos as a credit, they have to return it with 10 percent interest. To do this, manang Mary said that there is someone who will collect 100 pesos from them every day. Aside from the vegetables she was also selling fruits if it is in season.

She had been selling vegetables as a living since she came to Baguio. “This is what I have been used to doing for living” she said. At 61, manang Mary cannot tell exactly when she started selling.

She had been in Baguio for forty years where she had joined her relatives at Pinsao. She came from Barrio Maligkong in Mt. Province and then migrated to Baguio after she got married. She and her husband chose to live here because they find it difficult to get a good source of income in the province.

Manang Mary finished schooling until the third grade level. Both of her parents are native of Bontoc and ever since she was young, her parents were already working as farm laborers or tenants. They had no personal piece of land owned in their province. After she left school, she already engaged in work by helping her parents farm and sometimes took care of pigs.

“We are the poorest of the poor”, she  exclaimed remembering how life was at the province.

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Photo by GrassrootsAdvocate

For manang Mary at the early age she has to help her parents work. If they would not find an opportunity to labor at a farm they would not have food to eat. Manang Mary said that as long as you have something to plant and harvest you will not go hungry. Their family had to work really hard.

Manang Mary married a man from Bontoc. Her husband, 57 y/old has been working as a laborer while selling has been her form of livelihood. She has seven children, five male and two female. Now, she already has five grandchildren. Manang Mary has been old enough for her not to remember some details like the birthdays of her children. According to her, the eldest of her children was born on 1975, her youngest was born on 1992. Two of her children were already married and raising a family of their own. They still join her at their home in Pinsao. Her youngest was able to study college and took up Education.

Her son, the second of her children, took Agriculture in a State University. According to manang Mary, that is what her son wanted to do. Farming has been what her son ever known to do. Unfortunately, her son was not able to continue his studies. She had admitted that they do not have enough finances to support his studying. Instead, her son went to La Union where there was an opportunity to work as a farmer.

There was a time that her other son applied for a job that is provided by the government. Her son took the exam but he was not employed.  “There was politicking” she inferred. She wished that the government would provide jobs for the people who are in line with their skills.

“Unfair,” manang Mary shared her sentiments. She said that when people apply for job they would not get employed.

At 61 she still dreams but not for herself. She dreams for her family. “I only wanted all my children to finish their studies and earn a degree, after that, I can die.” She is happy and satisfied with her selling vegetables. There is no other job that she would want to do. She have also no regrets about being a vendor.

She only wanted to make sure that her family would always have food to eat. “I am happy. I would sell so that I am sure my family would have always something to eat. That is my happiness.”

Everyday that manang Mary would work on the streets, she would not mind the POSD patrolling. “I only need to run,” she said. She has not yet experienced being caught and the hardest challenge in her work is being old.

When the POSD caught someone, the vendors will try to protect their products. “Some of them would try to confiscate using force even if the vendor is an elderly. Our backs as old people would always ache and we can feel getting weaker each time passes by”, she explained.

At 61 Manang Mary is still running. She can and she will. She is running for her family. She runs for her living, so she can still provide for her family.

*This Feature Story is originally a written output for DevC110 course. (copyright 2013)