Paradise At Mount Pulag’s Foot
By Dr. MICHAEL A. BENGWAYAN
Karao, Bokod, Benguet, — There are Shangrilas in our midst if we look hard and long enough. These are not havens of grandeur we read in books but ones that rest in our memories for a lifetime.
One such place is an amazing farmer’s house tucked here simply way below Mount Pulag’s foot. The hand-made cabin lullabyes your weary body. The gurgling afton drains the dull mind with its rushing and carefree waters. The bountiful fish (tilapia and carp) broiled under late setting sun sates the breadbasket and the lazy passing moments move you to solemn mood, albeit freely.
Those who come here are touched, moved and challenged by the simple but hard life which makes any pretentious education useless. Visitors like me are awed, bewildered and forced to learn from it. How, you would ponder, can such a place exist when not too long ago, during the unforgettable 1990 earthquake, it was a pitiful sight of rocks, gravel and sand which could not support so much life.
No one can answer it better than the owner himself. A farmer, pragmatist, survivalist and leader with few words, Palaez Mayo will shake his head if you ask him the question. A question answered by a question.
Palaez is a respected farmer and leading tilapia and carp breeder for Ambuklao dam’s fish raisers. He cut his trees with his bare hands, built his house with wit and shrewdness right beside Agno river, dug the rocks and sand to house his fishes, pigs and fowls and is a man to reckon with over here in Karao. Almost all the food used in Mayo’s place are grown and raised right in the farm through careful symbiotic relationship.
Rice bran from pound native rice are fed to the fishes. Naturally-growing azolla are fed to pigs. Hog manure is plowed back to the rice fields and vegetable gardens. The fowls feed on the the pesky golden snail and scattered rice hull which also decay and fertilize the soil. Water from Agno feeds the eleven fishpens and fish movement and breeding are controlled by the Agno river’s water’s flow.
Educated people say his place is ideal for ecotourism. He says he does not understand the term with a sly smile. Visiting government and NGO officials say he should do this and that. He responds by looking at them blankly with squinted eyes.
Palaez is the president of the Karao Farmers Association (KFA). Alarmed over the fast vanishing native rice varieties in Bokod, he is heading a KFA community seedbanking project aimed at saving the remaining native rice varieties of Karao. Already, they have started conserving eleven traditional rice varieties.
“When these seeds are gone,” he says pointing to the KFA live seedbanks, “where will we get them”?
The rice community seedbanks of KFA will ensure that the native rice varieties which are grown organically will be there for future generations. “This is not at all easy”, he quips, “younger farmers turn toward hybrid rice seeds which are dependent on expensive fertilizers and inputs. Others shun traditional rice farming in favor of cash crops. Yet we owe something to the land that supported us by giving back something to the land,” he lamented.
Mayo’s project is supported by the United Nations Development Program Global Environmental Facility (UNDP-GEF), the Igorot Tribal Assistance Group (ITAG) and Project PINE TREE.
On November 26 and 27, they will get their chance to highlight why their native rice varieties are superior to hybrid rice in terms of taste, nutrient, resistance to pests, disease and adverse climatic conditions. Together with 47 other peoples organizations (POs) in Luzon, they will showcase their products and their cultural practices at the University of the Philippines Baguio.
No doubt many will learn from Mayo and his KFA group. I have been an agriculturist for 25 years here in the Philippines and abroad and have learned much from it. I am sure you people will. /Dr. MICHAEL A. BENGWAYAN