The Road Doesn’t End in Bendum: an Ateneo GSB immersion project
December 11, 2018
The Road Doesn’t End in Bendum: an Ateneo GSB immersion project
By Angelo Gonzales & Jayvann Olaguer
Once a source of dipterocarp hardwood for the lumber industry in the ‘80s, Bendum is now starting to recover: indigenous plants and trees have sprouted once again, and endemic wildlife is returning to its once biodiverse forests where the Pulangiyens struggle to sustain a living.
Student-leaders from the Ateneo Graduate School of Business and the Loyola Schools John Gokongwei School of Management enriched their business and sustainability knowledge with topics such as modern agriculture and GMOs, upland farming practices, Laudato Si’, and the Jesuit Province Roadmap of Mindanao through the first-ever 6-day Leadership and Sustainability Camp held in Sitio Bendum, Barangay Busdi, Malaybalay City, Bukidnon, from August 23-28, 2018. In collaboration with the AGSB Student Council and the Institute of Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC), AGSB Dean Rudy Ang envisioned this pioneer program to be an experience at the grass roots level for business professionals and MBA Students who will eventually become leaders and decision-makers in their own companies.
Bendum and Its Livelihood
Warmly welcomed by Fr. Pedro Walpole S.J., Director for Research of the ESSC, and Andres Ignacio, Ph.D., Director for Planning and Geomatics of the ESSC, a Pandawat (Welcome) ritual was performed by members of the Tribal Council of Bendum when they arrived to formally welcome the delegates to the Pulangiyen tribe.
Sitio Bendum, a community which can be found at the end of the dirt road, is situated some 48 kilometers northwest of Malaybalay City, Bukidnon’s capital, which is also the same site of a Pulangiyen community ancestral domain . The primary means of livelihood in the Upper Pulangi Valley, of which Bendum is part, is corn farming where a cropping cycle spans 4-months. The farmers mainly plant yellow-variant GMO corn and another locally hybridized variety called as ‘sige-sige’. To protect their crops from weeds and other infestations, farmers spray chemicals such as Triple S, Weedout, and Roundup. Without proper handling, these chemicals may become very harmful to the farmers as the active ingredient of these herbicides is glyphosate, a chemical known to be a carcinogen.
After harvesting, their crops will be sold to companies manufacturing livestock feeds where a kilogram of shelled corn can sell for as low as Php 10.00 to as high as Php 20.00. The prices normally depend on the buyer’s assessment, primarily based on the quality of the harvest produced.
To finance their cropping activities at the beginning of the cycle, most smallholder farmers approach private financers to take out loans to finance expensive agricultural technology of GMOs. Since applying for bank financing would take longer and requires a lot of paperwork and visits to the sentro, some farmers opt for private financing where the interest rates reach as high as 10% per month, compared with the 2%-2.5% per month offered by rural banks. Their lands, at times, may be used as a collateral for private financing. If farmers are unable to repay their debt after harvest, their lands will be taken away or they will work for their financers on their own land until they are able to repay their debt. Exploitation, health hazards and weather extremes under these circumstances are unavoidable, but these are just some of the harsh realities the local farmers face every cropping cycle.
Regeneration of the Forest and the Community
In the 1970s and 1980s, logging heavily damaged Bendum’s forest as the timber harvesting became rampant. Fr. Pedro and his dedicated team are taking responsibility in regenerating what remains of forests of Bendum. In partnership with the tribal council of Bendum, Fr. Pedro and his team were able to source funds to build a water system for the community in 1996 to provide potable water to drink. This water system became a key element in the regeneration of the forest as maintaining a proper tree cover was necessary to ensure the quantity and quality of the water supply of the community. A system of collecting wildlings of indigenous forest trees was applied and improved which allowed young trees to be nurtured and transplanted in degraded areas to help the forest regenerate. Seedlings are collected from ‘mother trees’ in the forest that produce good seed stock and transferred to nurseries in Bendum by youth forest managers. These youth foresters will nurture the plants until they are old enough to be planted back in degraded forest patches. This method of fast-tracking the natural regeneration process is called Assisted Natural Regeneration (ANR). To date, ESSC is nursing indigenous plants in the area to help rebuild its ecosystem.
Down from the mountain
Having a chance to engage with lumad and migrant corn farmers and indigenous youth leaders on topics about corn cultivation, their daily struggles, challenges, and their plans for sustainability, the delegates were inspired by the work of Fr. Pedro in Bendum. While everyone realizes that everything in the environment is slowly deteriorating, there is still hope – a hope that comes from the solidarity with these communities. They were advised that starting a sustainable living is hard specially that they live in the city where there are limited options to fulfil this promise. This type of living must be adapted slowly so that it can be integrated in their lives. The same is also true when it comes to business decisions. Ethical and environmental questions will always arise: to choose a cheaper material that would be harmful for the environment or to choose an expensive one that is ‘environment-friendly’; to use hazardous chemicals that would help efficiency or to be organic which is at times expensive and inefficient. Nonetheless, one must choose. But in choosing, one must always remember magis, an Ignatian value oftenly referred to as ‘more.’ It is not only doing more than what is required. It is all about choosing ‘the more loving option.’ Considering this as a gauge will definitely help in coming up with better sensible decisions. With all of these in mind, the 6-day camp was indeed enlightening to the participants who have already started their journey from Bendum.