Analysis: Notes on Ka Angie’s talk at the launching of Bungkalan

By IVAN LABAYNE
www.nordis.net

At several points in Ka Angie’s talk in the book launch of Bungkalan last Monday, I felt transported to my college years of EDs (educational discussions) and the sense of amazement that goes with it. This amazement has at least two sources.

First, the gradual unfolding—via statistical data, personal anecdotes and experiences, theoretical musings—of a world formerly undisclosed—the situation of the country, of women, of peasants, of students among others.

Second, the creeping discovery that it becomes one’s task to help in addressing the problems, now that one has gained awareness of them. Altogether, they can add on to the sense of amazement the feeling of self-importance, having known the society more ‘as it is,’ and thus become more enlightened in one’s actions in it.

But those years are over, at least for me, and instead of the sense of false self-entitlement, it is only the challenges that reverberate. Any perceivable irony is not bittersweet; I see it as rightly poignant: when Ka Angie exhorted the youth to do things about the dismal situation of farmers she just shared, I see no ‘grown-up’ sermonizing and demonstrating that she knows better. She just revealed to us that she’s 73 and instead of imagining sounds of bones crackling, I just heard her infectious chuckle: that intonation and manner of speech which lightens her up (and what she’s discussing, most of which are hardly rosy).

She spoke of the difficult situation of farmers, and of Philippine agriculture in general: “agricultural workers working in their own land but without any control of their land;” how only 2% of our agricultural lands are mechanized, or how compared to our ASEAN neighbors, our agriculture is so backward. Whereas Thailand has 1170 and Vietnam 1689 tractors per 1000 hectares, the Philippine only has 102.

There is neither hopelessness nor utter passivity in the face of all these. It is not always that when people complain, they just end there: teeth gnashing, if not falling off, blood boiling, if not erupting out of the skin. As with most leftists I know, Ka Angie has alternatives to discuss. She talked about the Diversified and Integrated Farming System based on the principles of agroecology.

More particularly, she endorses permaculture over the more prevalently practiced monoculture farming. The latter bows to the boredom and the unsustainability of the singular—one crop to plant—because of its marketability. Permaculture, on the other hand, fosters symbiotic diversity: plants, animals, forests helping one another’s growth. These living forces are taken not just as potential sources of income; they are appreciated as energetic matters that can affect man’s dwellings as well.

She also shared to us the adapted technologies developed by some farmers they have encountered in the field. After talking about our national dependence on other countries—evidenced by our receiving of not-always healthful and appropriate technologies, maski nga rice supply diba!—how can we not welcome such news of farmer initiatives except with giddiness and brewing love? She presented the pangi leaves repurposed as a “botanical pest control” by Doming, a farmer from Zamboanga del Sur. From the same province, another farmer devised a sugarcane presser.

There seems to be much apprehension in being self-reliant economically. That for me is more acceptable than outright assent to and justification of the country’s dependence on foreign economies. Big words such as “globalization” are simplistically used to embody such justification. More perversely, such nod to foreign dependence stems from the intent to protect elite interests.

Feelings of apprehension, expressed variously—kaya ba nating pakainin ang sarili nating mamamayan? Kelangan din natin ng imported products—can be eased by stories like what Ka Angie shared. Farmer-made technologies are promising starting points for the “utopian” vision of a nationalized mode of agriculture where instead of foreign control, farmers’ interests govern their production. Going against the twin enemies that is foreign dependence and an orientation to heavily export can address the lack of food security and food sovereignty Ka Angie named.

A more nationalist farming practice can ensure that not only farmers but the entire country gain both food security and food sovereignty. The former takes place when agricultural productivity is increased so that there is more than enough food to feed the population. Meanwhile, food sovereignty exists when farmers possess and have control of their own lands. Already bearing much hard agricultural work, not all farmers go inert or feel helpless even when the conditions for that hard work make it more trying. In the face of the backward state of farming, rampant usury, land conversion and dispossession, there are still farmers who creatively maneuver as the larger fight for genuine land reform continues.

For me it was very fitting to have this generally dire situation refreshed by someone like Ka Angie, in the launching of a book about organic farming. Looking sturdy and sprightly even at 73, Ka Angie embodies both the hope and the determination of a social movement that belies signs of waning. College years and groping for forms of social involvement retain the sense of the justness of what one is doing, maybe less self-entitled this time. Now it is also coupled with giddier appreciation of actual things being done elsewhere, things that also take part of the vocation to give shape to a social vision the lazy and the cynical can only name as ideals. # nordis.net

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