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Davao City, Philippines

Kalibre con ginamos

June 13, 2019 - Thursday 4:06 AM by Jimmy Laking

With the expected crafting of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of Republic Act 11291, also known as the Magna Cart of the Poor, there is no mistaking the government’s determination to trim down poverty to 14 per cent by the time President Duterte steps out of office by 2022.

The poverty incidence stands at 21.6 per cent, according to National Anti-Poverty Commission Secretary Noel K. Felongco. The island of Mindanao itself is host to several provinces where poverty incidence is much higher.

Felongco’s office is tasked to lead a multi-agency effort in crafting the IRR in six months. That achieved, he said the government can now proceed in a progressive manner in tackling poverty in the affected provinces.

This is good news indeed in the island of Mindanao where poverty seemed endemic in the countryside, itself the fodder to insurgency and extremism.

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At the height of the long droughts that hit the island in the 1980s, agricultural productivity was at its lowest. Families had barely enough food on the table. The discovery of a gold deposit by a Manobo villager named Kamini Banad in Mt. Diwalwal lit up the economy as other mining areas were discovered in Agusan, Surigao and South Cotabato.

Yet before this, it was a one-day, one eat proposition as folks described their situation in those days. For many, it was root crops like cassava and sweet potato that sustained life. Even now in Siargao island, cassava eaten with fish paste is an almost daily fare and the people are not complaining. The menu is referred to fondly as ‘kalibre con ginamos.’

You will be surprised that despite this spartan food, the people (both men and women) are good swimmers and expert divers and do not shirk from physical work.

Reflecting on this, I recall the advocacy of UP professor Dr. Eufemio Rasco Jr. for people to eat less rice and in its place eat sweet potato (kamote) and cassava instead. Rasco made the exhortation at the UP Mindanao campus to an interesting mix of audience that included local officials.

To begin with, he said, rice production continued to sustain inequality whereby majority of the rice farmers are poor while the few rice industry players are rich.

He added that rice farmers also tended to suffer from poor nutrition and poor health, occupational hazards and are handicapped by low levels of mechanization.

It was also his contention that rice production, likewise, generates high greenhouse gas emissions.

What are the effects of eating rice on the body? As reported, he was quoted as saying that once rice becomes glucose, it affects the skin, brain, arteries, blood pressure, nerve pressure nerve cells, kidneys, eyes, bones and virility itself.

He described white rice, pan de sal and white bread as the worst while sweet potato and cassava are the best.

In conclusion, Dr. Rasco recommended what he called a “strategy of intensification, diversification, integration through a mix of less rice production with more of other food products such as vertical integration with mushrooms, carabeef, and vermiculture; horizontal integration with ducks, tilapia, mungbeans, corn, soybeans, and other field crops; and similar integration with garlic, onion, cabbage, cauliflower, tomato, and other vegetables.”

As an organic agriculture practitioner myself, I am inclined to cast my vote for the professor’s advocacy. His system in fact shapes up as among the “best practices” Filipino farmers can muster as part of the defense against free trade and the dumping of farm products in the market. It entails a paradigm shift by stakeholders, chief of which is the Department of Agriculture itself that worries annually on where to source the money to buy rice as well as the irrigation to sustain farmers’ crops.

Organic agriculture itself, especially when applied to vegetable production, is the best defense we have against the influx of veggies mostly from Mainland China. In organic agriculture, we are not only assured of safety products but also of their health benefits.

Corn is also a common staple in villages, especially in the Visayas and Mindanao. For the sake of corn, even steep slopes are plowed to plant corn with. Its disadvantage as a crop is that it demands too much soil nutrients but otherwise it is indeed a more nutritious food than rice. Why, even Senator Manny Pacquiao once admitted he practically grew up on corn. It is also a known fact that most of the Filipino boxers who made good in boxing were basically corn eaters.

The poor by reason of necessity also survive on bananas (saba) aside from roots crops but while majority gets to access rice, it is on a one-day-one-eat basis. Indeed, in addition to the ailments cited above by Dr. Rosco, farmers suffer perennially from lack of enough cash to buy the very commodity they raise.

Let us call on the DA to make Dr. Rasco’s system as well as organic farming among the major thrusts of the Duterte administration in bringing about food sufficiency and sustainability.

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