Communal vegetable gardening: a tool for movement-building
For the people's organization in the Advocates' (Advocates for Community Health) area in Juban, Sorsogon, movement-building is not just about marches and protests; it is also about building cooperation and finding ways to sustain the organization itself. And it has found one effective way to do it - through communal vegetable gardening.
"To build cooperation, we need to have certain project to sustain our collective action," said Jerry Deocariza, chairman of the Calateo Farmers Organization (CFO).
"When people come together to make things happen, that is movement-building," he added.
The community garden is under CFO's socio-economic program which is being supported by Advocates through a synergy program with the Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes, Inc., an organization composed of sustainable agriculture advocates groups.
The communal vegetable garden is situated a few meters from the village center and is readily accessible by the residents. It is planted with a variety of vegetables such as bitter gourd, egg plant, green pepper, squash and string beans as CFO members take turn in tending the garden.
Juban is an agricultural town in the province of Sorsogon, south of Luzon Island. The province is one of the poorest in the country due to the fact that most of its farmers, who comprise the majority of the population, remain landless. Most of the agricultural lands are owned by a few families who also hold and control political power in the province.
The organization is active in the struggle for genuine agrarian reform as it leads in people's mobilizations and campaigns in the province and has contributed significantly to nationally coordinated campaigns carried out by progressive social movements.
Starting the communal vegetable garden did, indeed, pose a challenge to the leaders, admitted Gerry, but because of the high level of social cohesion in the community, the leaders did not need much effort to make the people understand the value of the project. Besides, most of the residents here are members of the organization and possess a high level of social awareness.
For Advocates, the project is an effective way of building the capacity of the people especially in collective action.
Through the communal vegetable garden, the people can work not only toward improving their condition but also on developing the organization's capacity to lead the community in bringing about change.
CFO is known in the province for its active stance against large-scale mining and other development aggressions that trample on the rights and lives of the people. Through the right-to-health program of Advocates, the organization is actively engaged in mobilizations to raise public awareness and arouse the people to defend their land against these economic aggressions.
At present, CFO is holding a series of campaigns together with environmental groups, church organizations, local government officials and concerned residents to oppose the government's geothermal project in the nearby Mt. Bulusan, an active volcano that serves as watershed and center of biodiversity in the province.
The government through the Department of Energy is eyeing Mt. Bulusan as a viable source of a 40 megawatt geothermal project for power generation to meet the demand for electricity in the coming years.
The project, according to the organization, will deplete the supply of water for drinking and for farm irrigation, may cause floods and landslides during typhoons, and may expose local communities to toxic wastes from the plant.
"While we are busy in carrying out campaigns against the geothermal energy project, we see to it that we can sustain our farm production as one of the aims of the communal vegetable garden is to become an additional source of funds for the organization's campaigns," said Gerry.
He added that part of the income of the vegetable garden will also go to the fund of the health committee to be used for health trainings and other activities related to the organization's health projects.
Gerry also mentioned about the role the vegetable garden plays during military operations in the community. Military operations are frequent in communities active in opposing development aggressions.
"When the soldiers are here, they would not let us go to our individual vegetable farms which are mostly found in the mountains. They accuse us of supporting the rebels who, they say, are staying in the mountains. During military operations, the vegetable garden can somehow help in sustaining the daily meals of the residents.
Just recently, the organization held its Harvest Festival to showcase the excellent quality of vegetables produced in the communal vegetable garden. The festival was attended by local officials from the Department of Agriculture, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the East-West Seed Philippines which support the vegetable garden through the supply of seeds, organic fertilizers and financial assistance.
The Harvest Festival is also a demonstration of the organization's commitment in attaining food security through sustainable organic farming.