Enhancing our indigenous practices with vermiculture

By GERALDINE CACHO
www.nordis.net

I grew up in an agricultural community where life is close to nature and schooling was like an escape from the hard work in the fields. It was part of my daily routine to wake up early to do house chores. After school, I ran home to change clothes and gear for harvesting camote tops or other vegetables for supper and the next day’s meal. It was hard and frugal but it was also an enjoyable life that I always treasure.

Coming to Baguio for my tertiary studies changed that routine. I was freed from farm work and I did not have to worry about tending the pigs and chickens. I was no longer tied to caring for my younger siblings. It was only during the longer vacations that I went home and helped out in the farm. During my early years in college, I was resolved that I will practice my profession in my hometown. But my dream changed as I was not able to graduate from college due to lack of finances. Instead, I became a full time organizer among Igorot students in Baguio for a brief period, and then among the urban poor communities to the present.

When I married and started my own family in Baguio, all the farm work which I had almost forgotten suddenly came back to mind. But there was no space to farm in the city. But I still tried to maximize whatever small space there was in the backyard of our rented house to grow some vegetables. We even tried to raise pigs just as we did in the village. But there are so many issues like neighbors who complain of sanitation problems brought about by backyard hog raising. We had to constantly haggle and educate our neighbors about internal support systems and sharing just to maintain a small backyard garden and two pigs. We were forced to stop raising hogs due to rising complaints from other neighbors.

Igorots like me who migrated to Baguio share common sentiments on maximizing vacant lots for gardening and backyard animal raising. Others persisted and modified some aspect of the indigenous practices to suit the urban setting. I became a mere advocate but hardly was able to join the groups I organized in cultivating unused lots.

The Irisan dumpsite became an issue, more so when the dump collapsed causing the death of six persons and two pigs. I raised the question, “Why would garbage become a killer? Why would it become an issue?” In my years in the province, ayyew was applied to everything. It is a cultural practice of how to use and value things even those that are discarded by others. Using ayyew as a culture of managing waste would lessen garbage and help solve the city’s huge garbage problem.

In Baguio, ayyew is used by indigenous migrants and the whole section of the poorer population through the notion of sayang. Being highly urbanized and its population highly heterogeneous, ayyew seemed hardly possible. As an activist organizer, I knew there has to be a way.

I was introduced to the African Night Crawler (ANC) when I joined the second vermiculture training in partnership with Tebteba Foundation’s Traditional Knowledge program. I heard stories from my colleagues in the urban poor organization, ORNUS, who joined the first training on its benefits and how it can help solve the issue on waste particularly biodegradable waste.

What does it take to culture worms? It is “yuck” to some but a friend of great help in managing biodegradable waste. Getting to know the ANC is much easier than introducing it to others. I really had to become a practitioner and not only an observer to be able to advocate it.

I got my hand kit of worms after a brief training. Listening to the stories of Mike, our lecturer from Laguna, was inspiring but was still too theoretical. I set up a vermibed in our kitchen when I arrived home and gave a brief lecture to my family on the do’s, don’ts and how to take care of the worms. Because it was just in the kitchen, it took only several minutes a day and after 45 days, an hour or so to take care of them. I got no flies (except fruit flies), I noticed no bad smell of rotting waste, and yes I didn’t have to go out to bring my garbage every pick-up day because my household garbage lessened by at least half.

However, when we moved house during a typhoon, I lost my worms. The landlady picked up the sack which served as my vermibed and dropped it in her open garbage pit thinking that it was unsanitary. It was however a blessing because after some weeks, we noticed that the open pit was not smelly anymore, and the neighbors stopped complaining of its stench. Before we transferred residence, I visited the pit and there were ANC co-existing with other worms. I explained to the landlady about vermiculture. I planted green onions, eggplants and standing cabbage at her place, using vermitea and compost. I advised her of the benefits vermiculture and to stop burning non-biodegradable waste in the pit so the ANC would not get burned.

Purok 27

In my new residence, a new project on vermiculture has been implemented in partnership with the Cordillera Women’s Education and Research Center (CWEARC), and luckily, it was decided that my community would be one of the project areas.

After two training sessions by CWEARC, a common vermibed was set up at the residence of the Espada family. After 20 days, we gathered the training participants to evaluate and pay a visit to the common vermibed. Apart from Mrs. Kiwang and I, seven women requested for kits and assistance for the setting up of their own vermibeds (Bernardita, Agnes, Nally, Faustina, Nena, Maring and Brenda). Freddy, a bank employee shared his experience and asked to be counted in the vermigrowers group. Counted in the group are Emy and Cris in Purok 27 and Carol at Purok Biak na Bato.

The vermibeds of the individual growers served not only as repository of kitchen refuse of their own households but also of their neighbors. The city stopped collecting biodegradable waste in our community after the setting up of the vermiculture project. The common vermibed served as a growing area to replenish worms of members who lost theirs due to typhoons or other reasons.

Initially, the members did not use the vermicompost on their backyard gardens and/or potted flower plants. Traditional farming was still the most common knowledge. I shared to them my limited practice on vermiculture and soon I had more followers.

It was mainly learning from actual practice. We were not starting from zero because we all had backyard plants, but most were flowers for house ornaments. Slowly, vegetable seeds were discussed and shared. Nutrition became one of the favorite topics to include health and the difference between commercial vegetables and organically-grown vegetables. The discussions expanded to values on internal support systems like ubbo or collective labor, traditional seed safe keeping and sharing, traditional land utilization and composting. Applying these valuable indigenous practices became one of the objectives of setting up a common garden.

After some time I was no longer too attached to the project. What mattered to me was that I was learning from one of the good practitioners, Manang Bening. Every weekend, she would invite me to the garden, oftentimes with Agnes and sometimes with the other members. While we tended the garden, she lectured on farming, teaching me what and how to plant, what plants can be combined together and when is the best time for planting. She talked of the best time to prepare the land for planting. Like a mother, she repeated the same stories every now and then and it was good for me who forgets so easily. She reminded me of my mother when I was a little girl, and my lolas (grandparents), manangs (elder sisters) and aunties when I was in grade and high school.

Our garden, just like the uma (swidden) in the province, is planted with diverse plants that include camote, ginger, beans, sayote, squash, patani, and corn. It was set up later than planned since we had to get the permission of the owner and the caretaker of the land.

Although vermi-compost production is slow, its benefits are visible. The big flies are gone. The unsanitary piles of biodegradable rubbish of the neighborhood have greatly lessened. Garbage from the community only consists of non-biodegradable waste. However, Vermi-composting still has to be accepted and practiced by other residents to reduce the indiscriminate throwing of bio-degradables in vacant lots.

In our community, Manang Bening and I experimented on pechay or Chinese cabbage. We fertilized the upper plots with vermi-compost while traditional composting was used in the lower plots. According to a gardener it takes 45 days before pechay can be harvested, but to my amazement, the pechay with vermi-compost was harvested after 20 days from transplant period while the traditionally grown pechay was harvested after 33 days. This reminded me of our pechay in Sta. Scholastica which was fertilized with vermitea and was ready for harvest just after three days. The growth was very visible.

Eating healthy vegetables made me realize the difference with commercial vegetables. No wonder the gardeners of Ambiong who use chemical fertilizers and pesticides do not eat what they grow. Our garden provided us chayote (both fruit and tops), camote tops, seasonal pechay and string beans for our consumption. I was able to save the money intended for these for other family needs. At present, due to the lack of water, we can only grow camote, chayote and beans in addition to backyard beans, standing cabbage, green onions and herbs.

Manang Bening is our leader; she knows when to call the ubbo, directs the management of the garden and the vermibeds. She organizes time when the children are supposed to help in the garden as a venue of learning. My role was just to coordinate the project implementation with our partner and the wider Samahan ng mga Kababaihang Nagkakaisa (Samakana).

There is a lot more for me to learn from Manang Bening and from the actual experience of our practitioners’ group of ayyew-ubbo-vermiculture. The project partnership with CWEARC brought reality to the campaign of urban poor organizations of ORNUS and Samakana and the wider indigenous women’s alliance, Innabuyog in managing biodegradable waste while producing safe and healthy food. A socio-economic initiative to be proud of. # nordis.net

Click here for first part (Ayyew: Her initiative in support to socio-economic survival and waste management)
Click here for the second part (Ayyew: Learning and innovating from actual practice)
Click here for third part (Ayyew-Ubbo-Vermiculture: Indigenous women’s augment mechanism)
Click here for fourth part (Ayyew: Up close with Ambiong practitioners)
Click here for the fifth part (Silver linings in the journey of ayyew-ubbo-vermiculture)
Click here for sixth part (The wonders of vermiculture: from the diary of Glory Taclawan)
Click here for the seventh part
Click here for the eighth part
Click here for the ninth part
Click here for the tenth part

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