Preserving Ifugao’s culture, tradition through agrobiodiversity

Meet Milagros Dulnuan, president of the Fruitful Farmers’ Association in Ifugao province in the Cordilleras. Wearing the traditional Ifugao women’s clothes of blouse and tapis (wrap-around skirt), Milagros was arranging the various agricultural products and byproducts showcasing the Agrobiodiversity Project outside a crowded conference hall at a hotel in Taguig City.

Dulnuan, who hails from Hingyon, Ifugao, was a presenter of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) booth during the two-day event in January.

Milagros Dulnuan, president of the Fruitful Farmers’ Association in Ifugao province, is tending to the group’s products as a participant during the GEF-National Multi-Stakeholders’ Dialogue that was led by the DENR at a hotel in Taguig City last January 18 and 19. Various agricultural biodiversity products and byproducts are showcased during the event.

The event showcased successful Global Environment Facility (GEF)-funded projects as part of the GEF-National Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue that was organized by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Showcasing various agrobiodiversity products, the FAO booth also showcased traditional rice varieties from Ifugao, and an assortment of rice-based food, such as cookies with sesame seeds, bars, inamot, imbuleh/binakle (rice cake), ginitaan.

Also showcased in the FAO booth were ginger and ginger-based products like tea and candy; taro chips, cookies and various handicrafts.

Best practices

Conrado Bravante of the DENR’s Foreign Assisted and Special Projects Service (FASPS) said “the exhibit was intended to bring to the participants and to the public the gains of the projects, which are related to biodiversity, chemicals and waste, land degradation, international waters and climate change.”

Through the exhibit, the DENR, FASPS and GEF, intended to display the best practices with the hope of replicating the successful projects in other areas, Bravante told the BusinessMirror in an interview at the sideline of the event.

Under the eighth replenishment cycle of the GEF for the Philippines, a $52 million funding opportunities for communities in the focal areas were identified by GEF and the DENR.

At the opening of the exhibit on January 18, the FAO Agrobiodiversity Project stood out as Dulnuan shared the Ifugaos’ indigenous knowledge, skills and practices that promote sustainable food production practices that lessen the adverse environmental impact of agriculture.

Besides the products from Ifugao, the FAO booth also showcased various produce by women beneficiaries from Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, such as hand-woven abaca and t’nalak cloths of the T’boli people.

What is agrobiodiversity?

The FAO defines agrobiodiversity, or agricultural biodiversity, as the variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms that are used directly or indirectly for food and agriculture, including crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries.

Agrobiodiversity includes harvested crop varieties, livestock breeds, fish species, and nondomesticated, or wild resources within fields, forests and rangeland, including tree products, wild animals hunted for food, and aquatic ecosystems.

It also includes nonharvested species in production ecosystems that support food provision, including soil micro-biota, pollinators and other insects, such as bees, butterflies, earthworms and greenflies, and nonharvested species in the wider environment that support food production ecosystems, such as agricultural, pastoral, forest and aquatic ecosystems.

Under threat

Like biodiversity, agrobiodiversity is under threat.

According to FAO, various local food production systems are under threat, including knowledge, the culture and skills of farmers.

“With this decline, agrobiodiversity is disappearing; the scale of the loss is extensive. With the disappearance of harvested species, varieties and breeds, a wide range of unharvested species also disappear,” FAO said.

Alarming loss

In the last 100 years, the FAO said the scale of loss of agrobiodiversity is alarming. It noted that since the 1990s, some 75 percent of plant genetic diversity has been lost as farmers worldwide have left multiple local varieties and landraces for genetically uniform, high-yielding varieties.

It said that 30 percent of livestock breeds are at risk of extinction. It is alarming that six breeds are lost each month.

Currently, FAO said that 75 percent of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plants and five animal species.

Worse, of the 4 percent of the 250,000 to 300,000 known edible plant species, only 150 to 200 are used by humans, with rice, maize and wheat contributing nearly 60 percent of calories and proteins obtained from plants.

ABD Project

According to FAO’s ABD Merchandise Module, the Philippines is one of six areas identified by the GEF as priority genetic reserve locations for wild relatives of agricultural crops.

“It serves as the home of over 5,500 traditional rice varieties, and boasts of a broad spectrum of indigenous and endemic species of vegetables and fruit crops,” it said.

It is for this reason that the Dynamic Conservation and Sustainable Use of Agro-Biodiversity in Traditional Agro-Ecosystems of the Philippines Project (ABD Project) was conceptualized. It aims to enhance, expand and sustain the dynamic conservation practices that sustain globally significant ABD.

The project was made possible by a GEF grant of $2.18 million, with co-financing of $11.52 million.

Its implementation, which started in 2016, was concluded last year, benefiting more than 2,000 farmers in 17 communities in the municipalities of Hingyon and Hungduan in Ifugao, and Lake Sebu in South Cotabato.

Support to farmers

The project is helping farmers through the provision of livelihood assistance, such as trainings and farm tools to help augment their income.

It is assisting farmers conserve traditional crops and practices, contributing to the protection of the environment.

In Hingyon, Ifugao, the project has provided various assistance to farmers, honing their knowledge and skills in enterprise development and farming system on heirloom rice and upland vegetable.

Farm machinery, tools and community seed banks were provided by the program.

Empowering women

Speaking in Filipino, Dulnuan said with the ABD Project, they came to realize the importance of preserving and conserving their culture and tradition, such as Ifugao’s heirloom rice.

She said most of their organization’s members are women, who have become very productive because of the training in food processing.

“In our town, because of the project, the local government unit passed a resolution promoting locally produced rice,” Dulnuan said.

With the various export-quality products the Ifugao farmers are currently able to produce, she said their Fruitful Farmers’ Association is looking forward to having their own facility through the help of GEF or other funding institutions, to comply with the requirement of the Food and Drugs Association (FDA).

“One of the requirements of the FDA is a food processing facility.  That is why we are hoping to have financing for the facility so that we can get the FDA approval that will allow us to export our products,” she said.

According to Dulnuan, women members of various groups from different areas covered by the project were given the opportunity to shine.

“For every product, there’s one processor assigned to do it. For example, for ginger candy, one person is assigned to it. Mostly, women farmers are into this project more than men,” she said.


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