Thursday, June 16, 2011

Philippines Diaries, Day 4, Part 2 - The Reforestation Charade

I was recently part of an International Fact Finding Mission to the Philippines. Our group investigated the impact of a biethanol project that uses sugarcane as its feedstock on the local environment, food security, land grabbing, and human rights. This diary covers the afternoon of June 1, when I visited a forest restoration area.

If you recall "Marco" from the landgrabbing post, well... the afternoon of June 1, we paid him a surprise visit. He was NOT happy to see us. Marco, if you'll recall, told us that a village official ("Pedro") was trying to steal his land. But he wouldn't tell us how much land he had. And he was college educated, not originally from this area, and spoke perfect English (all strange characteristics compared to the other peasants we interviewed).

The reason we paid Marco a visit was actually because of our interest in the SIFMA program, which stands for Socialized Industrial Forest Management Agreement. Marco has a SIFMA.

Basically, the rules of SIFMA are as follows: You make an agreement with the government to reforest a designated area for 25 years. This is an area that you don't own - no one owns it. You must cover a certain percent of the land with trees in the first year, and you must cover it all with trees in a relatively short timeframe. For the first few years, you can still grow annual crops like rice on a percent of the land. After the first several years, you have to start paying the government, because presumably you are profiting in some way from your forest (i.e. by growing fruit). The payments increase with time. If you do not follow the rules (i.e. you don't cover the land with trees or you stop paying), then you lose your right to the land.

This is one of several related programs for reforestation (Community-Based Forest Management (CBFM) and Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA)) but it's the most relevant for explaining what I observed on my trip.

The Philippines once had 16 million hectares of forests, representing 52% of the total land area. Today, there are about 0.8 million ha of natural forests. Here's what that looks like:


Source

For reference, if you look at the green stripe on the northeastern most part of the country in the 1999 picture, that's close to where we were. The reason that strip has not been deforested is because there's a mountain range making it inaccessible except by plane. We were just to the west of there, outside the green strip of forest.

So off we go to see Marco - just a few of us, including Simone, our forests expert, and Diony, our host, who has a SIFMA himself. He's got about 25 acres of SIFMA between his land and his children's land. He planted it with a diverse array of species, including many kinds of fruit trees. And that's significant, given that the rules of the SIFMA program, from what I was told (I have NOT fully researched this program - YET), allow exotic species and even monocultures. You can plant a huge area with Gmelina trees, a fast-growing type of tree used for paper. Or you can plant mahogany, which is exotic. While we did this, the rest of the group stayed behind in Del Pilar to interview farmers or went with another group to a barangay (village) called Libertad.

As I mentioned, Marco was not expecting us, nor was he very happy to see us. We sat down and began asking him questions about his SIFMA. Simone, our expert on forests, did the talking. Then she asked if he'd go on video to make a statement about his SIFMA. That's where he hesitated.

Then he told us: "I have a secret." He pretends he's poor, he said, but actually he's quite rich. He's got somewhere between 150 and 200 hectares of land (370 to 495 acres or so). He wasn't eager to go on video, because he doesn't want anyone scrutinizing his landholdings too closely.

Through talking to him, we found out that he doesn't plan to keep his land in forests necessarily. He figures that, as he ages, it would be best to put his land into rice instead of forests. But it would be an awful lot of work - not to mention money - to knock down all of his trees in order to plant rice. So, he says, he wants to sign the minimum contract with the bioethanol plant (3 years), and let them get rid of his trees and plant sugarcane. After 3 years, he'll cancel the contract, get rid of the sugarcane, and plant rice.

What? This certainly changed the story from the one we heard the day before. Marco was no poor peasant being victimized by the big mean corporation or the local landgrabber. True, he had problems with the local landgrabber, but he told us he had lawyers working on the issue for him. And he wanted to use the bioethanol plant to knock down his trees for him. That is significant because the carbon neutrality of bioethanol is based on the calculation that no land is deforested to grow the ethanol feedstocks.

At the end of the interview, he walked with us through his forest and to his rice paddies. Here are some photos.






Rice seedlings


Rice paddies


A section of the rice paddy that I believe they said had just been harvested


Water for irrigation


Rice


Marco's pigs

At some point during our interview, all of the Filipinos in our group wandered off. One went to a nearby brook for a bath. Others went to collect fiddleheads to take home with them. Ultimately, we all met back up at the truck and went home. We would have liked to visit Diony's SIFMA, but it was time to get back to the group and then we had a long drive back to San Mariano ahead of us.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Philippines Diaries, Day 4, Part 1 - "We Eat Animal Feed When We Can't Afford Rice"

I was recently part of an International Fact Finding Mission to the Philippines. Our group investigated the impact of a biethanol project that uses sugarcane as its feedstock on the local environment, food security, land grabbing, and human rights. This diary covers the morning of June 1, when I helped interview a family that was really struggling to hang on.

June 1 began with a long discussion by our group about the events of the night before. What would we do about the local official/landgrabber Pedro? He was on his way over, accompanied by the radio broadcaster, asking for us to hear his side of the story. Meanwhile, we wanted to interview other farmers to get their stories - without Pedro or his family around. We decided that a few members of our group would interview Pedro and the rest of us would proceed with the schedule as planned.

Sure enough, as soon as I popped my head outside the house that morning, there was the woman from Radyo Bombo, eager to introduce me to Pedro and his son. Pedro, looking very honest and sincere with his crystal blue eyes, politely asked me in English to interview him. I tried to interject a few times, but he kept on talking, like a freight train that wouldn't stop. Finally, I was able to tell him that YES, we thought it was a GREAT idea to hear his side of the story - but I wasn't going to be the person who would do it. Somehow, we got Pedro talking to Simone - who would interview him - and I hopped on the truck with the rest of the group to go to Panninan, one of the poorest barangays (villages) in the area we were told.

We arrived in Panninan at the town's basketball court, right near a small store. I took stock of what was available in the store. If folks here are purchasing their food instead of growing it, whatever the store sells is probably what they will buy, unless they find a way to go into town in San Mariano (more than an hour away, I think).


Basketball court


The store


Eggs and toothbrushes


Soda


Ramen


Fish


Cigarettes - EVERYONE in the Philippines smokes, it seems!


Bagoong, the popular Filipino fish sauce

Nearby, I saw a squash on a vine. In the distance, I saw many banana trees. I also noticed a plant I didn't recognize and found out later that it is called malunggai and it is edible.


Squash


Banana trees


Pineapple and malunggai

Then it was time for interviews. I tagged along with Roxanne, a Filipino woman who spoke fluent English (who I really liked a lot!), and a woman named Eva as we went looking for someone to interview. It still strikes me as strange to visit villages where the main "roads" are actually trails. There was a road into Panninan, but within the village, people travel on foot. No roads are needed.

On the way, we passed several crops growing, including some intercropped bananas, corn, and rice.


Bananas, corn, and upland rice. It seems there was one row of corn for every 3 rows or so of rice.


Beans and eggplant


An outdoor kitchen


Malunggai, a vegetable


Man with a machete


Mama pig and piglets

We came upon a group of people sitting outside near a hammock and began talking to them. Here is their story:


Gerry's family

Gerry and his wife Cely are a couple in their mid-40s who live in the barangay (village) Panninan. They have 8 children. They are of the Kalinga ethnicity, and neither has any education. Gerry’s left arm has been amputated below the elbow. The family owns 5 hectares of land that has been in their family for decades, but they do not have a title to it. They supplement their income by working as day laborers on other nearby farms.

Currently, they grow about 1 hectare of yellow corn with two croppings per year, and they report earning a net income of 20,000 pesos (US$454.54) per cropping, or 40,000 pesos (US$909.09) per year. They take out a loan with an interest rate of 15% per 4 month cropping period in order to buy their crop inputs:
  • 2 bags of Roundup Ready yellow corn seed per hectare at 4000 pesos apiece
  • 3 sacks of fertilizer per hectare at 1000 pesos/sack
  • 3 liters of Roundup (glyphosate) per hectare at 500 pesos/liter

They also pay 20 pesos per cavan (a Filipino unit of measure equal to about 50 kilos) for shelling their corn and 40 pesos per cavan for transporting it to San Mariano. They report a yield of 100 cavans (about 5000 kilos) per cropping, which they sell for 10-12 pesos per kilo.

Additionally, the family plants less than a hectare of upland rice using traditional varieties of seeds. The seeds cost them 300 pesos. They grow five cavans (250 kg) of rice this way, but unfortunately, with 10 people in the family to feed, the rice does not even last them five months. Once their rice runs out, they try to earn money any way they can so they can buy rice. Sometimes, they sell a chicken.

“When we have no rice and no money to buy rice,” said Gerry, “We eat bananas. Lately, we’ve even had to eat yellow corn.” (Yellow corn is used for animal feed, compared to white corn which is eaten by people.) They try to conserve their rice so it will last for as long as possible by eating only two meals a day. They also grow a number of fruits and vegetables around their home and on their farmland, including mung beans, taro, sweet potato leaves, string beans, and bananas. All of these foods are used for family consumption.

While we visited, a neighbor brought over four documents, all written in English. Two were Certificates of Land Ownership (CLOAs), one for a property of 9890 square meters and one for 6337 square meters, both issued in 2004. The second two were foreclosure notices on the same two properties. These were issued in 2009 due to the CLOA owner’s failure to pay a total of 23,532.89 pesos (US$534.84).

The families we spoke to (Gerry’s family and two neighboring families) have heard little about the sugarcane plantation or the bioethanol plant thus far. Mostly, they are struggling to hang on and feed their families. They told us that there was an informational meeting about the sugarcane plantation in their area but they figured they’d be forced to participate in growing sugarcane if that’s what the powers that be wanted, so they didn’t bother going to the meeting, as they felt it wouldn’t make a difference.


Gerry's rooster


Taro in back, sweet potatoes in the front. This is what Gerry's family eats with their rice.


A home near Gerry's house. I am pretty sure I remember seeing her feed the baby infant formula. I was told that companies like Nestle advertise infant formula very aggressively here, a horrible crime given that formula is expensive for poor families, less healthy than breastmilk, and can pose a danger to infants if their parents don't have access to clean water.


A carabao (water buffalo) near Gerry's home


A cart that is pulled by carabao. This one belongs to Gerry's neighbor, as does the carabo pictured above.

For comparison, I'd like to share some numbers we were given in an entirely separate interview in a different village. A woman named Beth gave us a full accounting of her costs and revenues for growing yellow corn with Monsanto's Roundup Ready Bt seed. It seems as if her land is slightly less productive than Gerry's, producing only about 80 cavans per hectare instead of 100 cavans. (Perhaps because Gerry rotates his crops, leaving each part of his land fallow in between growing corn or rice there?) She also uses more fertilizer than Gerry and she pays quite a bit for labor. I did not personally interview Beth, but I suspect she needs to pay for labor because she grows more than one hectare of corn. Let's hope so anyway, because she doesn't make very much per hectare, as you will see below.

Beth's Expenses for Growing 1 Hectare of Corn
  • Roundup Ready corn seed: 8,000.00 pesos, $181.82
  • Fertilizer: 8,640.00 pesos, $196.36
  • Pesticide: 1,310.00 pesos, $29.77
  • Plowing (100 pesos/person/day, 2 people, 2 days): 400.00 pesos, $9.09
  • Applying fertilizer (1 person): 100.00 pesos, $2.27
  • Planting (5 people): 500.00 pesos, $11.36
  • Food and Snacks for workers: 500.00 pesos, $11.36
  • Harvest (10 people):1,000.00 pesos, $22.73
  • Threshing: 2,500.00 pesos, $56.82
  • Carrying corn from field to drying area: 1,000.00 pesos, $22.73
  • Drying (4 people, 3 days, 100 pesos/day): 1,200.00 pesos, $27.27
  • Transport to San Mariano: 1,300.00 pesos, $29.55
  • Empty sacks: 1,000.00 pesos, $22.73
  • Total Costs: 27,450.00, $623.86

Nearly $625 in costs to grow 80 cavans of corn, worth 39,325 pesos or $893.75. If Beth did not have to take out a loan to buy her inputs, then she made $269.89 per hectare per crop. With two crops per year, that would give her 23,750 pesos or $539.77 per year, or 65 pesos or $1.48 per day.

If she did take out a loan, she would then have to pay 15% interest, and that would bring her net income down to 6385 pesos ($145.11) per hectare per cropping; 12,770 pesos ($290.23) per year; or 35 pesos ($.80) per day. Ouch. I hope that she has more than one hectare, and I hope she didn't need a loan.

Compared to Beth, it appears that Gerry used unpaid family labor to save on expenses, and with the higher yield, he would have about 50,000 pesos $1,136.36 in revenues per crop. He reported 22,800 pesos ($518.18) in expenses (including 15% interest) but only 20,000 pesos in net income per cropping, so he probably forgot to tell us about a few of his expenses. What we do know for sure from the interview is that his family is barely hanging on. They don't have any extra money lying around, because if they did, they'd use it to buy rice. An annual income of 40,000 pesos is $909.09/year or 110 pesos ($2.50) per day. That's not a lot of money if you've got 10 people to feed.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Philippines Diaries, Day 3, Part 3 - The Bioethanol Plant

I was recently part of an International Fact Finding Mission to the Philippines. Our group investigated the impact of a biethanol project that uses sugarcane as its feedstock on the local environment, food security, land grabbing, and human rights. This diary covers the May 31, 2011 visit to the bioethanol plant, which is currently under construction.

The group who went to the plant were welcomed by the resident manager. He briefed them on the bioethanol project. I was not in this group, so this diary is based on the notes and memories of Edna Maguidad and Simone Lovera, who were in the group that visited the plant.

The plant is owned and run by Green Future Investment, Inc. (GFII), which is a joint venture mostly owned by a Japanese company called ITOCHU. They have contracted with ECOFUEL Land Development, Inc. to create a sugarcane plantation. No representative from ECOFUEL was at this meeting, so there were some questions that the GFII resident manager could not answer.


Members of our group visiting the bioethanol plant.

The bioethanol plant is currently under construction, and there are three contractors building it. They are targeting March 2012 to open the plant. The plant, once open, will be able to accommodate 3000 tons of sugarcane per day. The waste material from the sugarcane (bagasse) will be used to fuel the plant and to generate electricity that will be sold to the grid. The sugarcane juice will first have its water removed, then it will be made into alcohol. It will initially be 95% alcohol, but they need it to be 99% alcohol, so they will go through another process to extract the remaining water so that it is is "fuel grade alcohol." It will be stored in a storage facility with 6 million liters of storage.

The facility will also use anaerobic digestion to produce methane biogas. The wastewater will be returned to the local environment, which they call "ferti-irrigation." The plant itself is 30 hectares, and they need 11,000 hectares for the sugarcane plantation. They will use 6000 cubic meters of water every day. They plan to source it from wells (local groundwater), and they say it won't impact local residents. They said they had an environmental impact assessment in 2010, and they will not pollute the air at all. Before releasing any air, they have an electrostatic precipitator that will capture any solid elements in the air.

When the group asked about the sugarcane plantation, the resident manager said we should direct those questions to ECOFUEL. The sugarcane plantation will first prioritize idle and abandoned lands for use, but they realize that some of the lands they are already using for sugarcane are land where food crops were previously grown. At this time, they did not say how much of their land was previously used for food crops. They also don't have a good definition for "marginal land."

Our group asked about competition between using land for sugarcane for biofuels and using it for reforestation, the manager from GFII said he did not know. He added that when there is land that is in dispute, their policy is to back out. Thus, they say, they have no impact or influence on land grabbing. He said they have a process for ensuring that the person they contract with for their land is the actual owner. At this time, the resident manager did not know the process to explain it to our group.

They said they will bring many benefits to the community.
1. Jobs. They will directly hire 260 people, and for the 11,000 hectares of the sugarcane plantation, they need many workers and most will come from the local area. They said they need one worker for every one to one and a half hectares of sugarcane. And, again, this will be contracted by ECOFUEL.
2. Jobs for Trucking. They also said they need 200 trucks per day. (This worries us, as it will do a number on local roads and traffic.)
3. Free organic fertilizer. They promised to provide ECOFUEL with organic fertilizer for free to use on the farms. ("Ferti-irrigation")
4. Fourth, the employees will bring demand for housing.
5. Fifth, they will supply power (for a charge!) to the community.

Simone, our forests expert, asked about the viability of the project. What is their plan B? They said off-season, they will augment their ethanol plant with molasses when they can't get enough sugarcane. They need a minimum of 8000 hectares of sugarcane to keep the plant running. And that depends on the price of molasses - if it's too expensive, it won't work. Also, the viability of the project depends on getting the sugarcane from within 40 km from the plant. Beyond that distance, it will cost too much for trucking to make it viable.

Right now they have an estimated 3000 hectares planted in sugarcane and a 300 hectare sugarcane nursery. They say they will provide all of the technology and the inputs for the sugarcane. They will mostly lease land from farmers for their sugarcane plantation, but they also have an option for farmers to do contract growing.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Philippines Diaries, Day 3, Part 2 - Interviewing Indigenous Farmworkers

I was recently part of an International Fact Finding Mission to the Philippines. Our group investigated the impact of a biethanol project that uses sugarcane as its feedstock on the local environment, food security, land grabbing, and human rights. This diary covers the morning of our third day, when we interviewed sugarcane plantation farmworkers and their families.

Following our courtesy call to San Mariano's mayor, our group split up: half went to the bioethanol plant, and half went to a barangay (village) called Alibadabad to interview the families there. I was in the second group.


Our ride. Beware of sunburns.

Once at Alibadabad, we split up into small groups and walked around looking for people to interview. I followed a few of my Filipino colleagues to a woman named Rebecca's home. I am using real names of the people we interviewed and identifying the real places. Normally, I do not do that but in this case, the people wanted their stories told and were willing to go on the record. By doing this, they are risking their own safety. As a foreigner, I am not sure how great the risk is, but I'm told it's not at all unheard of for the Philippines to toss an activist in jail without a trial. While in the Philippines, we were very conscious that, as foreigners, we were likely safe, but our actions could put the Filipinos we befriended in danger if we were not careful.

Rebecca was doing her laundry when we arrived, but she stopped to speak to us. There were several pigs in the village, and Rebecca had a pig too. I found out in the course of the interview that it wasn't hers - she was raising it for money, to split the profits with the pig's owner.


Pig


One of the buildings in the village, with laundry hanging outside. And the same pig as above.


Rebecca's pig


Rebecca's home & laundry


One of the families in the village. I think this is Rebecca, holding the baby, but I can't remember. The older lady might be her mother in law.


A rather skinny cow in Alibadabad.

Here is what Rebecca told us about her life:

Rebecca and Pedro are a couple with 5 children living in Alibadabad, San Mariano. Both are of the Kalinga ethnicity and are in their forties. Rebecca completed school through fourth grade; Pedro completed fifth. They own no land. Prior to 2007, they practiced slash and burn farming for 20 years by renting land. They shared their crop with their lender, keeping 70% of profits and giving 30% of profits to the lender. Typically, they grew mostly yellow corn to sell, which would provide them with a net income of 2400 pesos (US$56) per cropping, although they still had to pay labor costs out of that amount. After they paid for labor, they had little money left. They grew two corn crops per year. They also grew a small rice paddy and some white corn for family consumption. (Note: Yellow corn is for animal feed in the Philippines; white corn is for human consumption.)

After two successive droughts, they gave up farming. In the past, they had always had enough to eat, but during the droughts they did not. Now they purchase all of their food instead of growing it, as they live on a 10m by 10m plot of land they purchased for 5000 pesos in 2000 that does not have enough space for them to grow food. They do raise a few pigs on the land, but the pigs belong to someone else, and they split the profit with the pigs’ owner 50/50 when the pigs are sold.

In 2008, they first heard about the incoming sugarcane plantation, when the company brought sugarcane to their barrio and taught them how to plant it. They promised to pay 2200 pesos per hectare. She recalls no hearings about the incoming plantation, and feels that people in her area were not well informed about it. Rebecca reports that barangay officials did not intervene in the sugarcane plantation’s activities, and in fact, municipal officials are the most active in promoting the bioethanol project. She’s noticed the increased military presence in San Mariano, and told us that the military provides security to the plantation. Thus far, there are no local paramilitary forces, but Rebecca reports noticing that they are now recruiting locals to serve as paramilitary.

Last year, Pedro and his 2 eldest sons (now ages 18 and 23) began working on the sugarcane plantation as farmworkers. Typically, they work in groups of five, which are paid 400 to 700 pesos per day to be split among the group (80 to 140 pesos per person). Together, the most the three family members have earned in a week is 1700 pesos (US$38.63), but a more typical weekly income is 900 pesos (US$20.45). Wages are tied to the amount of work the group is able to complete. However, even in their best weeks, the three men earn less than minimum wage of 233 pesos per day. For three men working six days a week, a minimum wage income for the family should total 4194 pesos (US$95.32).

For the three family members who work in the sugarcane fields, their day begins at 5am. They walk to work for two hours, arriving and beginning work at 7am. They break from 11am to 1pm for lunch, then work until 4pm. At that time, they make the 2 hour walk home, arriving home at 6pm. Rebecca stays home with the younger children during the day.

In March, the 18-year-old son was wounded while working in the sugarcane plantation when he cut his foot on some sugarcane. He went to the hospital, where he incurred expenses of 1540 pesos, plus an additional 700 pesos to pay for medicine. The total medical debt of 2240 pesos (US$50.91) has not yet been reimbursed by the employer. Rebecca says the injury has been reported, but the company requested a birth certificate from her son. Meanwhile, the 18-year-old son is unable to work (let alone walk), so the family’s income is diminished by one third.

Rebecca recalls that the company promised employees Social Security and PhilHealth, but she has received neither thus far. She is not sure if the company has registered her family for these benefits or not. She says that some people have gotten cards for PhilHealth but she is not sure if they’ve actually gotten medical services yet. She says the company said that her son’s medical costs will be reimbursed through social security.

The only bright spot for Rebecca is that her oldest daughter is now attending college. She got a scholarship to pay for her costs, but with the money earned at the sugarcane plantation, Rebecca is also able to provide her with a small allowance. Otherwise, Rebecca says, “The biggest change in my life since the sugarcane plantation came here is no change.” Life was difficult before, and it is difficult now.

Rebecca reports that her family has grown sicker since they began working at the sugarcane plantation, but that might be a coincidence and unrelated to the sugarcane work. She says her family - particularly her father in law - has had problems with cough, diarrhea, and malaria. She’d like her husband to stay home instead of working at the sugarcane plantation.

Philippines Diaries, Day 3, Part 1 - Pesticide Shopping in San Mariano

I was recently part of an International Fact Finding Mission to the Philippines. Our group investigated the impact of a biethanol project that uses sugarcane as its feedstock on the local environment, food security, land grabbing, and human rights. This diary covers the morning of our third day, when we woke up in San Mariano and I stumbled into a seed & pesticide store.

We spent our second night at the home of a councilman in San Mariano. He had a large home with exquisite hard wood furniture, gas for cooking, running water, a shower (no hot water, but it was hotter than hell outside, so that was fine), a toilet that you flush by pouring water down it, electricity, plenty of electric fans (but alas, no A/C), and a very affectionate, very pregnant orange tabby cat. He and his family were incredibly generous to our group, allowing us to sleep in the family's bedrooms and on extra mattresses on the floor as well. In the morning, I noticed family members (whose beds we took) sleeping on chairs, which made me incredibly grateful for their generosity.

I woke up with the roosters and by 6am, I was out of the house, exploring San Mariano. San Mariano is a municipality, which includes the town of San Mariano itself and the outlying rural areas. The villages in the Philippines are called "barangays." San Mariano municipality, the largest municipality in the Philippines, has some 37 barangays. But for now, we were in the center of the town itself, where there were paved roads and even some internet access. I took a few pictures of our street, none of which are very exciting:







My first goal for the morning was to buy a wide-brimmed straw hat. I was also on the lookout for any agrochemical stores. As it turns out, I found both in one place.


Sharp Shooter, a Roundup knockoff

The store clerk noticed me taking a picture of her sign and asked what my purpose was. I told her I was here to learn about Filipino agriculture. She assured me that the product in the advertisement was imported, as was nearly everything in her store. Imported products are good, she explained. Filipino products are bad. And Monsanto? "Very good company," she told me. She also told me that many farmers took out loans to buy seeds and chemicals and then they went into debt as a result.

I played along because I wanted information and photos. She had bags upon bags of GE corn, both Bt and Roundup Ready. I noticed a skull and crossbones on the label of one GE corn product and asked to take a few photos:


GE corn, which sells for 4000 pesos ($93) per bag. You need 2 bags per hectare. Notice the list of pesticides the seeds are treated with?


The DeKalb logo and slogan in Tagalog. It translates roughly to "Really technology. Abundant life." This is a different slogan than the one I saw in Mexico for DeKalb: "An angel in your earth."


A sign hanging in the store


Fertilizer and Coke

As you can see above, the glyphosate product is called Sharp Shooter. Other glyphosate brand names there are Clear Out, Clear Cut, Razor Cut, Broncho, Round Up, Power, Weed Ban, Standout, Klear Weed, Prowess, Demolition, Grass Fire, Dry Up, Pounce, Pounder, Tekweed, Grassout, Burner, Enforce, Devast, Long Score, Glykil, Kross Out, and Triple 8 (Source). I also saw a Bayer brand rice seed for sale, and some 2,4-D herbicide on the shelf. I did not notice any DDT or even any Paraquat, but it's possible they (and other highly toxic products) were there and I overlooked them (both products are legal but restricted). I bought a straw hat and a fan for a little over $1 and walked home, passing some very miserable looking chickens for sale ($3 each), and a mother and baby bunny on the way.


It hurt me just to look at these guys.


Momma and baby bunny.

When I got home, the entire house was awake and getting ready to start the day. I asked if I could watch our hosts make breakfast. It turned out to be a lot less exciting than I hoped, just eggs, tomatoes, very stinky fish cooked in some brown, liquid pork product, and a can of corn beef hash. (One day I am pretty sure I saw Spam served at the breakfast table, and another day they gave us a can of cocktail weenies.)


Prepping the ingredients for the tomato & egg dish


Cooking the fish


The fish are on the right, the tomatoes and eggs on the left


Tomatoes, onions, and garlic, cooking


Stinky fish. Filipinos love these. I don't even like being in the same room as them.


My breakfast

Breakfast was OK, and the malaria meds I brought this time (Malarone) didn't upset my stomach, so I was ready to start the day. (I brought Doxycycline to Bolivia and it made me throw up.) We began with a briefing from Cita, one of the local Filipino activists who was hosting us in San Mariano. She told us that the bioethanol project had initially told farmers they would pay 20,000 pesos per hectare per year to lease their land for sugarcane production, but when the farmers signed contracts (written in English, so they couldn't read them), the contracts were only for 5000 pesos per hectare per year. That's $116 instead of $465.

Then, a journalist from Radyo Bombo who I met the day before asked if she could interview me. I did NOT feel ready to be interviewed about the situation in the Philippines, since I figured I was probably the least informed in our group about what was going on there. But I consented anyway. (The Radyo Bombo story becomes important later...)

I stepped out of the room where Cita was briefing everyone to wait with the Radyo Bombo person for my interview. After an awful lot of waiting, it was time for our entire group to meet the mayor at City Hall. I hopped on the "Jeepney" that was transporting us and went with the group, completely losing sight of the Radyo Bombo woman. She caught back up with me at City Hall, and interviewed me while the rest of the group was in the Mayor's office. With luck I didn't say anything too stupid (or too damaging).

After interviewing me, she interviewed Tanya, our team's leader and a Canadian. This was the start of a fascination with the group's foreigners that continued all week. Some of the government officials and media folks we met were not affected by this, but many were. They seemed to think that because we were from another country, we therefore had something more valuable to say than the Filipinos in our group. I would argue that it was actually the opposite, as the Filipinos in the group were much more familiar with the Philippines than any of us foreigners!


A "Jeepney" - our ride to City Hall


Our team pays a courtesy call to the Mayor. Photo credit: Edna Maguidad


Radyo Bombo interviews our team leader, Tanya, after they finish interviewing me. Photo credit: Edna Maguidad.

From here, our group was to split up. Half went to the bioethanol plant, which is currently under construction. I joined the other half in a rural village (or "barangay," as they are called there) to interview the locals about their experiences with farming, land grabbing, and the incoming bioethanol operation and its associated sugarcane plantation.