AboitizPower supports the farmers in Hungduan and Poitan, Ifugao

September 29, 2023

AboitizPower supports the farmers in Hungduan and Poitan, Ifugao
Ifugao Farmers Juliano Diclihon (left) and Oscar Pugong (right), both family men, express their gratitude to the PUNLA project for helping them secure a dignified and sustainable source of livelihood.

In the heart of Poitan, Banaue and Hungduan in Ifugao, a group of farmers are pioneering an endeavor that has transformed their lives and the landscape they call home. United by a shared vision of environmental restoration, Oscar Pugong, Juliano Diclihon, Erik Melecio, Danilo Butala, Mars Himmoliap, and Jerry Nayoos are not only revitalizing their environment but also reaping the benefits of a harmonious partnership that yields both clean water and sustainable agriculture. Amidst the challenges posed by an erratic water supply and worsening environmental conditions, these farmers discovered a glimmer of hope through the Partnership in Uplifting Upland Natural Resources, Livelihood, and Assets (PUNLA) project.

Erik, a farmer with two decades of experience, vividly recalled the struggles they endured prior to benefiting from the reforestation initiative.

"Kulang ang patubig namin. Natutuyo 'yung mga pananim namin. Kung meron mang tubig, hindi naman malinis kasi kapag umuulan, wala na ‘yung mga punong-kahoy na nagfi-filter doon kaya madumi ang lumalabas sa mga daluyan (We lacked irrigation water. Our crops were withering away. The water available was often impure due to the absence of the filtering trees, resulting in contaminated channel water during rainfall),” he said.

Their fortunes changed in 2020, when they became beneficiaries of the PUNLA project. The mission of PUNLA extended beyond environmental restoration, offering financial incentives that not only boosted their income but also established a reliable source of revenue for their farmlands.

Oscar, also a beneficiary and a farmer with 13 years of experience, said that his journey with PUNLA has been truly rewarding. Beyond the growth of their planted trees, they now have a stake in the products they yield, securing additional income to support their families’ needs.

Help that Goes Beyond

The support extended beyond mere financial incentives. Under the PUNLA program, the farmers were also provided with essential farming resources such as seeds, fertilizers, and, most notably, modern farming equipment. Among these were five hand tractors and three grass cutters, invaluable tools that have significantly eased their farming efforts.

Reflecting on this, Jerry, the vice president of the Poitan Farmers and Irrigators Association, said, "Sa loob ng 20 taon ko bilang farmer, mas napadali na ‘yung pagtatanim namin lalo na sa rice terraces. Noon, medyo mahirap kasi doon sa rice terraces namin ay talagang mano-mano, pero ngayon mas madali na dahil sa mga kagamitan mula sa PUNLA (In my two decades as a farmer, planting on the rice terraces has now become easier. What used to be a laborious manual process has been streamlined, thanks to the tools provided by PUNLA)."

The PUNLA program stands as an exemplary initiative in the realm of sustainability and corporate social responsibility, made possible by SN Aboitiz Power-Magat (SNAP-Magat) in collaboration with the municipal governments of Banaue and Hungduan.

As a leader in the field of renewable energy, SNAP is driven by a heartfelt mission: to help empower Filipino households with steadfast access to reliable, environmentally-conscious, and modern energy solutions. Yet, for SNAP, sustainability entails a profound responsibility, one that transcends conventional business practices by uplifting the welfare of its host communities and protecting the local environment.

“Much like its English translation ‘seedling,’ PUNLA promises to grow even more. Hopefully, from this milestone will also come livelihood and enterprise development opportunities for communities within the watershed throughout the rest of the project’s implementation,” said SNAP-Magat President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph S. Yu.

Under the banner of PUNLA, approximately six hectares of rice terraces have been rehabilitated, with an additional 2.41 hectares reforested in barangay Poitan. Additionally, a substantial 50-hectare forest in Hungduan has undergone reforestation efforts.

Recognizing the invaluable contribution of the farmers, it was also SNAP that implemented the compensation system for their efforts of nurturing the land and preserving the delicate balance between nature and progress.

Season of Hope Blooms

Juliano’s face lights up with pride every time he talks about the profound and lasting impact of their endeavors.

"Maganda ‘yung project dahil nakakapagtanim kami para rin sa kinabukasan; may aantayin ‘yung mga bata o ‘yung pamilya namin (This project is remarkable because it enables us to plant not only for the present but also for the future; something that our children and families can look forward to),” he said.

Meanwhile, Erik's aspirations extend even further, as he envisions a future where Hungduan is a thriving tourist destination.

"Sana pagdating ng araw, kung maganda ang resulta, hindi natin alam kasi mabilis magprogreso ang isang lugar. Malay mo, ‘yung mga pine trees na lumaki na ‘yan, gawin nating tourist spot kasi maganda ‘yan (If the results are as promising as we believe, who's to say? The progress of a place can be rapid. Imagine those towering pine trees becoming a sought-after tourist attraction, adding to the area's beauty),” he pondered.

At present, these farmers are relishing the fruits of their labor in the form of pristine water flowing from the reforested terrain. Mars echoed this sentiment, observing that the water that courses through is of exceptional quality and a truly valuable resource for their livelihood.

Reforestation Revolution

The impact of the PUNLA program extends beyond the realm of tangible outcomes, leaving a lasting impression on the local farmers. One invaluable lesson they have gained is a heightened awareness of deforestation and its far-reaching consequences for climate change.

This newfound awareness has given rise to a distinctive local system known as "muyong," a local term that encapsulates the essence of a forest. Strengthened by local ordinances, this system holds farmers accountable for the well-being of their own lands, fostering a resilient stance against unsustainable farming practices.

"Mas aware na sila ngayon kasi nakita na nila kung ano ang epekto ng deforestation. Kaya ngayon, kapag mayroong nagsunog (kaingin farming), isusumbong namin sa awtoridad para pagmumultahin (Farmers are now more aware because they have seen the negative effects of deforestation. So now, when there’s someone who starts slash-and-burn farming, we will report it to the authorities so they can be fined),” Erik explained.

This demonstrates how their enhanced understanding has empowered them to take action. In this way, the PUNLA program has not only revitalized the physical landscape but has also sown the seeds of environmental consciousness within the local farming community. Through the cultivation of muyong and the diligent enforcement of responsible land management practices, farmers are forging a path toward sustainable coexistence with their natural surroundings.

Transformative Power of Grassroots Initiatives

By hitting two birds with one stone — reforestation for water filtration and agricultural sustainability — the community has charted a course toward a greener and more resilient future. Gratitude resonates deeply in the hearts of the farmers in Hungduan and Poitan, as they appreciate the opportunities extended to them by both their municipal governments and SNAP-Magat. These farmers support the continuation of SNAP’s advocacy, particularly in remote areas, recognizing the transformative impact it brings to communities.

"Salamat sa SNAP kasi ang programa ng Aboitiz ay may naitutulong sa aming pamilya pati sa ibang tao na rin. Dahil sa PUNLA, nabigyan din sila ng tulong na trabaho. Kaya sana, mag-expand sila sa ibang komunidad para mas maraming matulungan (We express our gratitude to SNAP, as this Aboitiz program has proven to be beneficial for our families and also other individuals who have benefited from it. Thanks to PUNLA, job assistance has also been provided. We hope that this initiative expands to other communities, enabling even more people to receive assistance and support),” Danilo said.

The story of Hungduan and Poitan farmers stands as a testament to the transformative power of grassroots initiatives. Their partnership with the municipal governments of Banaue and Hungduan and SNAP has shown that communities, when united by a shared purpose, can effect tangible change.

Through their commitment to reforestation, these farmers are leaving behind a legacy of sustainability, resilience, and hope. Their story encourages us all to consider our roles as stewards of the environment, proving that even the smallest of actions — when taken collectively — can shape a brighter and greener future for generations to come.

This article was written by Angelo Sanchez for Manila Bulletin.

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