Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Urban Farming in Parañaque, Part II

Pauli was just a lot away from Romy. We joined him as he sat under the shade of a large aratiles tree.

How great it would have been at this point be to take a dip in a cool pond-- one that would have been filled up by the many little rivers and streams that existed before Parañaque was cemented over. Or maybe I should have tried Pauli's catchment hole, which was already filled with the same sewage water that Romy used. Even sitting on a patch that may have been soaked by it made me anxious.

He was growing only two things. One, kinchay or Chinese celery, is used in many local dishes, including the ubiquitous party pancit. The other was lettuce, of some variety or another (friends will tell you I am not so fond of this salad leaf family).

I was able to buy a kilo each of kinchay and lettuce for only Php45 (less than one dollar). He claims that the lettuce was not yet fertilized. Anyhow, I'll post later on about how I transplanted some of the produce into small pots and tried to wean them off chemicals. And oh, I actually ate some of the stuff I bought, after washing them well. I reasoned out that I have probably been eating dirtier stuff all this time anyway. It was also my silent way of support and solidarity. Hehe.

Anyhow, Pauli is a migrant from Catanduanes, Bicol. An uncle had moved to Manila to escape the stormy ravages of home, and after a failed attempt to get a job, ended up tending a lot in the subdivision I was sitting in now. Pauli was encouraged to come during the 80s, and has since become a squatter near the village church. He grows a variety of crops throughout the year, selling them to the same wholesalers and retailers who frequent these urban farms.

He (almost tearfully) told me about how the homeowners' association has given him until April 20 to leave the place, despite his amicable arrangement with the lot owner. Apparently, the association attributed recent cases of theft to the farmers, without evidence or arrest. This is silly-- the gates are so loosely guarded (with one fronting a busy passage to Ninoy Aquino Avenue), and many other non-residents such as construction workers shuffle in and out.

Now without any alternative livelihood, he was trying to look for another patch to cultivate. With sadness, he recounted how it was here that he had grown into manhood and started his family. His presence, and those of other farmers, is not legitimized by the local government.

The demand for fresh food exists everywhere, but the supply chain is convoluted and messed up. Instead of eliminating these farmers, who represent probably the last remaining agricultural forces of Metro Manila, let's look for ways to incorporate them.

There is room to get creative here: Teach the use of natural stormwater collecting (and supplementary water supply) to eliminate the use of sewage? Start a co-op to provide (organic) farm subscriptions to the community and other surrounding subdivisions? This will eliminate the middlemen and give them a sense of dignity and stability.

Before I left, Pauli and I had a flute exchange. I gave him the cheapo flute from India that I had been playing while walking around, and he gave me a flute he had fashioned of a scrap piece of bamboo from a nearby construction (it was loads better and more sophisticated). He said he used to make his own flutes to keep him amused during rest periods on the Catanduanes bukid. I can't play the thing because I can't do the mouth shape right, but I won't stop trying. And I'll keep it as a reminder of the nearby everyday struggles and services by "under-the-radar" folks like Pauli.


andrei said...

nice! interesting bea!

oh and good job on the flute exchange!


Dex said...

I guess what we also need is cooperation and support from our subdivision.

I used to see some of his crops before. But now it's gone. So sad that there's only few who really understand what Pauli's doing and the benefit it will contribute to our environment.

And also we need these crops for our bees to produce honey, and we need bees to pollinate these crops.