Monday, February 18, 2013

Look beyond rice : livelihoods in Ifugao region

In my previous blog posts on agriculture in the jungle and rice , we discovered that Ifugao people produce rice in the famous Banaue rice terraces to insure food security, as well as a set of rainfed vegetable which are sold and therefore are cash generating. Next to this, smallholders in the area have many different activities to insure the resilience of their livelihoods. Next to their houses they have a home garden with vegetables that can be irrigated when needed, such as cabbage, carrot or paksoi and another very common vegetable from the pumpkin family which name I could not memorize as well as fruits such as papaya. Also all the farms had in average about 20 chickens that run around freely. Both vegetables and the eggs are home consumed and sold. I have also seem many farmer keeping wild pigs for the pork meat. Fish and shells for the rice fields are mainly for home consumption.
Next to the houses one can also find nut trees, which red nuts are chewed with tobacco and shell powder. This combination has narcotic effects and is taken by almost all young people. The nuts are therefore for many people a significant source of income. 
the nut trees
The jungle also offers a whole range of benefits. The privately own forest seemed to my non-expert eyes pretty sustainably managed. Trees are cut mainly for building houses or for carving furniture and souvenirs for tourists.
The papaya trees around the houses
Off-farm options exist, mainly thank to tourism also offers a whole range of opportunities, young people become tour guides and some older wealthy people build guesthouses. Nonetheless, in the todays setting tourism only benefits a few and not really the community as a whole. An indirect effect is that the people who work in tourism will hire other smallholders to maintain their farms and harvest rice. A male daily laborer get about 500 pesos (12,5 dollars) a day for maintaining the terraces, female daily laborer get about 150 pesos a day for weeding. In comparison, a server/cleaner in a fast food chain in Manila makes about 300 pesos a day. So working on someone else’s rice field does not seem such a bad business, just very tiresome. 
I tried to understand how the community was organized, whether they had informal or formal institutions that would bind them to each other, but I could not find any, not even the Church. Definitely, I yet do not understand how these communities are organized. It is a pretty different setting that the one I am used to from Ethiopia, where smallholder live below the one dollar poverty line. I was pretty amazed to find smallholders who don’t do so bad, even without having a road.

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