Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Subic Aetas put up ‘Field of Dreams’ inspired by organic farm

SUBIC BAY FREE PORT—Drawing inspiration from an organic farm in Castillejos, Zambales, that now supplies fresh produce to supermarkets here and in Manila, members of the indigenous Aeta tribe in this free port are now dreaming of making it big in vegetable farming.

Recently, the tribe has turned a nine-hectare plot in their hilly village of Pastolan, some 10 kilometers away from Subic’s central business district, into a vegetable patch intercropped with sweet potato, cassava, gabi tubers and black pepper.

But with the vegetable farm project thriving under their constant care, the Aeta villagers are now thinking of developing another five hectares nearby, said Pastolan tribal chief Conrado Frenilla.

“We plan to plant fruit-bearing trees this time, and maybe put up a herbal garden, too,” Frenilla said, pointing out that “value-added crops” like fruits and kitchen herbs have a steady and growing market.

This Aeta “field of dreams” actually germinated as a corporate social responsibility (CSR) project of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA). Handled by the agency’s Corporate Communications Group, the “green garden” program was meant as a livelihood-enhancement scheme for some 200 Aeta families living in Pastolan.

“A lot of the Aeta men folk have been employed by the SBMA as forest rangers and jungle survival instructors. But we saw that their family members still need some other means of livelihood to augment the family income,” said Knette Fernando, SBMA deputy administrator for corporate communications.

“With this in mind, our community relations officers consulted with leaders of the Aeta tribal council and the green garden project soon became a reality,” she said.

“Now they are looking forward to harvesting their first crop in March,” Fernando added.

Frenilla said the project couldn’t have taken off without an “exposure trip” that the SBMA organized for the Aeta community a few months ago.

“The SBMA brought us to this Taiwanese green garden and demo farm in Castillejos, Zambales, and it was there where we got some ideas on vegetable farming and marketing techniques that we saw could be applied in our area,” Frenilla said.

The project, as could be expected among people who had not gone beyond cultivating the usual backyard vegetable plots, literally had a rocky start.

Frenilla said they encountered the biggest difficulty in clearing the nine-hectare project site because it was strewn with rocks and covered with hardy cogon grass.

Moreover, the Aetas lacked suitable equipment for land clearing.

“But little by little, we coped and cleared the area using only jungle bolos, rakes and the community’s carabao named Tisoy,” Frenilla said.

He also expressed appreciation to the SBMA for its support in the garden project, adding that the agency has provided assistance not only to Pastolan, but to four other Aeta communities in Subic in terms of employment, scholarship grants, livelihood skill trainings and infrastructure projects.

Gigi Estalilla, an SBMA community relations officer who oversees the Pastolan green garden project, said that work in the Aeta communities is hard but very rewarding.

“Twice or thrice a week, we hike several kilometers from the main road up to the farm to check on the progress of the crops,” said Estalilla.

IN PHOTO -- PASTOLAN tribal chieftain Conrado Frenilla (fourth from left) inquires about organic farming technology during a visit to the Green Garden farm in Castillejos, Zambales. By H. EMPEÑO - Business Mirror

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