The uncertain future facing Talakag town, Mindanao’s vegetable capital
Talaandig farmer Adolfo Santos has been growing vegetables on the slopes of Barangay Miarayon, in Bukidnon at the foot of Mount Katalungan for decades now. Talakag town, particularly Miarayon, is known as the vegetable-growing capital of Northern Mindanao.
Unlike years past, Santos, 48, has been forced to use fertilizers, specifically chicken manure. Considered organic, manure provides nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium to the soil. However, not all fertilizers in all the farms are organic as what had once been considered recommended plant nourishment is no longer enough to yield a bountiful harvest.
Due to a confluence of various factors, Miarayon farmers are faced with decreasing yields, dependence on chemical fertilizers, and an incursion of lowlanders to the Talaandig ancestral land.
Decreasing soil quality, reliance on fertilizers
Dharvy Jumanoy, the Talaandig indigenous people mandatory representative, said harvests from the fields of Miarayon have decreased over the past years.
Jumanoy says: “A corn farmer used to harvest 50 sacks from a half-hectare lot. Now he would be lucky if he gets 20 sacks if he does not use fertilizers and chemicals.”
Agriculture officials say years of farming have diminished soil quality, forcing farmers to rely on fertilizers and chemicals to boost production.
According to Carlota Madriaga, regional technical director of the Department of Agriculture (DA), the land was so rich during the 1980s that farmers always enjoyed bountiful harvests without resorting to fertilizers and other chemicals.
However, Madriaga says deforestation and overuse of the land for agriculture, coupled with the use of chemicals, have reduce soil fertility.
She adds: “Farmers are now using fertilizers and chemicals even those we consider as very dangerous. They are now heavily dependent on them.” Some of the fertilizers and chemicals are readily available from agricultural stores in Cagayan de Oro while harmfull ones are sold underground.
Madiraga says the DA is monitoring the chemical and fertilizer content of vegetables produced in Miarayon.
According to a 2015 study by Xavier University College of Infrastructure, some 1,648 hectares in Miarayon need to be reforested to bring back the richness of the land and improve biodiversity. The study finds that the slopes in Miarayon, if reforested, are important in preventing floods.
Tropical Storm Sendong caused almost P2 billion in damaged agriculture and infrastructure, and left more than a thousand dead when waters from Miarayon rushed down to Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in December 2011.
Selling tribal land
A day after tilling his farm, Santos was scheduled to go to a vegetable trader in Cagayan de Oro to get a loan that he hoped would finance not only the seeds for his crop, but also chemical fertilizers to be used for his carrots to grow well.
“It would have been less expensive to plant carrots had the soil been richer”, he says, adding that “in the past we did not use fertilizer.”
Santos can save on labor costs since farming is a family affair with his wife and 3 children also helping to till the field.
While Santos continues to farm, other Talaandig have decided to sell plots of ancestral land to lowlanders, traders, and corporations out of necessity, even as the entire 11,670-hectare land of the Miarayon area is covered by the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) issued to the Talaandig tribe in 2003.
Now, however, the lands can no longer be sold.
During the 18th anniversary of the issuance of the CADT on October 29, Ryan Danio, chief of the Miarayon Lapok Lirongan Tinaytayan Talaandig Tribal Association (Milalittra) says, “after 18 years, it is only now that we are enforcing our tribal laws.”
According to Danio, Talaandig elders were unable to enforce the tribal laws before. “Sadly, traders and lowlanders are encroaching on our land. We want to stop them,” Danio adds.
The Talaandig tribe, one of 7 ethnic tribes in Bukidnon, are mostly found living and farming between two of Mindanao’s highest mountains, Kalatungan and Kitanglad, particularly in the municipalities of Talakag and Lantapan. They are the people of the slopes (or “andig” in the vernacular).
The ancestral domain of Milalittra covers 5 barangays in Talakag, considered Northern Mindanao’s major vegetable production area.Talaandig farmers grow potatoes, cauliflowers, carrots, broccoli, Chinese pechay and other vegetables in the rolling slopes.
Talaandig farmers also grow Arabica coffee. Miarayon coffee, Danio says, is considered one of the country’s best.
Accessibility goes both ways
Madriaga remembers how Miarayon used to be so inaccessible that it took agriculture technicians a day of hiking to get there from the nearest accessible road.
“We hiked up and down the mountains on trails and crossed several rivers before we can reach Miarayon,” Madriaga says.
A concrete road constructed in 2008 now connects Talakag town to Miarayon cutting the trip to one and a half hours.
Besides the road, Madriaga says the agriculture department provides communal irrigation systems and a low-interest financing scheme for farmers. A vegetable terminal in Barangay Miarayon has also been constructed for the farmers’ convenience.
This, however, comes with its own set of problems.
Danio said while the road is a boon to the Talaandig farmers as it makes bringing produce to the markets much easier, settlers from the lowlands and even Igorot farmers from the Cordillera in Luzon have arrived and farmed Miarayon’s fields to exhaustion.
(With support from Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines)
Members of the Miarayon Lapok Lirongan Tinaytayan Talaandig Tribal Association participate in a motorcade to celebrate the 18th anniversary of their ancestral land in Barangay Miarayon in Talakag town, Bukidnon on October 29, 2021. Photo by Froilan Gallardo
Talaandig members sacrifice chickens during a ritual for their supreme deity, Magbabago, in Barangay Songco, Lantapan, Bukidnon on March 3, 2021. Photo by Froilan Gallardo
Talaandig women place coins during a ritual for their supreme deity, Magbabago, in Barangay Songco on March 8, 2021. Photo by Froilan Gallardo
Talaandig farmer Adolfo Santos tills the land in Barangay Miarayon, Talakag town, Bukidnon on October 29, 2021. Photo by Froilan Gallardo
Talaandig women till land in Barangay Miarayon on October 29, 2021. Photo by Froilan Gallardo
A Talaandig woman tills land in Barangay Miarayon on October 29, 2021. Photo by Froilan Gallardo
Talaandig farmers spray chemicals on their vegetable farm in Barangay Miarayon on January 6, 2019. Photo by Froilan Gallardo
Talaandig children help their parents till their land Barangay Miarayon, on December 10, 2020. Photo by Froilan Gallardo
A Talaandig farmer applies chemicals on their vegetable farm in Barangay Miarayon on January 6, 2019. Photo by Froilan Gallardo
Workers carry boxes of vegetables in Barangay Miarayon on September 20, 2018. Photo by Froilan Gallardo
A farmer brings sacks of corn on his horse in Barangay Miarayon on Otober 29, 2021. Photo by Froilan Gallardo
A truck laden with vegetables from Barangay Miarayon passes a highway to Cagayan de Oro City on January 4, 2019. In the background is Mount Kalatungan. Photo by Froilan Gallardo
A vegetable vendor in Barangay Songco on October 29, 2021. Photo by Froilan Gallardo
Buyers weigh boxes of vegetables in Barangay Miarayon, Talakag town in Bukidnon on September 9, 2018. Photo by Froilan Gallardo