Zambales, the Aetas and Seed Saving

Zambales, the Aetas and Seed Saving

The last couple weeks, I’ve been working on seed saving for the Need for Seed project and creating a seed saving guide as well as a journal of my experimentations. I say experimentations because I’ve never tried to save seeds then plant them, and it has proven to be difficult. I’ve found that finding the right place to dry the seeds is difficult for a couple reasons. They need to be in a place nearby, so I can check on them, but they shouldn’t be in a place where they would attract animals or bugs (which is extremely difficult). Also, it rains pretty much everyday, so they should be in a place where they won’t get rained on (or else they will rot), but still need to be exposed to the right amount of direct sunlight without drying out too much. I’ve tried to keep them inside my room to dry, but the air-conditioned room is actually too cold for the seeds, and some of the seeds have turned black because they got too cold. So, as you might be able to tell, this has been kind of challenging, but I’ve been researching and trying to find a good place on the farm where the seeds will dry out and not rot. I’ve been keeping a journal for Max, a long-term intern working for MAD Travel who will soon work on this project with me, and pick up the work after I leave. Tracking down materials has still proven to be difficult, but I have been able to get a few glass bottles (seeds need to be kept in glass) from the garbage and have been using banana leaves to dry the seeds on. I also got some seedling bags from the farm supply store, which I have used to start planting some of the seeds I’ve gathered. I’ve planted tomato, cucumber, squash and calamansi so far. Also, remember that I saved all these seeds from being thrown away, so what once was considered garbage will now (hopefully) grow into food.

I’ve been putting together a seed saving guide with pictures of the plant and the seeds along with proper drying and storing techniques and planting instructions. I didn’t know too much about seed saving and planting before this project, so this research has been informative and it will be helpful in the future as well.

Last weekend we visited San Felipe Zambales and got to meet a native tribe called the Aetas. The trip was through MAD Travel, so part of their profit goes back to the tribe and we also got to help their reforestation efforts. It was an amazing trip, one of my best weekends in the Philippines thus far. The Need for Seed project was started to give back to the Aetas, so it brought more meaning to my work and it was cool to meet the people and the land that would eventually receive what I’ve been planting. It was also largely a learning experience, from seeing how this indigenous tribe lived to learning about their ancestral homeland and the environmental issues they face. Their land is largely covered in volcanic ash-sand and denuded mountains and hills, with some streams. It is a beautiful landscape, but lacks a lot of the necessary forest/vegetation. The whole area has faced large amounts of deforestation, but not because of the Aetas. Unlike much of the Philippines, this deforestation was caused by a volcanic eruption in 1991 by Mt. Pinotubo. Twenty-six years have passed, and still they have not fully recovered. During the hour and a half trek into their village from the main road, I was trying to imagine what it would have looked like before almost completely forested. It was hard to imagine, and it was also hard to imagine how the Aetas still lived here after such a drastic change. The lack of trees completely disrupts the water cycle, which causes both floods and droughts. Trees contribute to the water cycle through transpiration, which helps maintain the water cycle, so a lack of trees can cause a decline in rainfall, and thus droughts occur. Trees also absorb and retain a good amount of water after a heavy rainfall, so during the rainy season (the current season) floods are more common when there is a lack of trees. Additionally, when there are heavy floods, the nutrients from the soil are carried away and lost, which leads to lower fertility rates in the soil. I actually recently learned that because of this, many plants native to this area have adapted or prefer soil with lower nutrient levels. Anyway, the implications of deforestation are many and long-reaching. The Aetas had contributed minimally to the deforestation in the area before the eruption, but Mt. Pinotubo did the majority of the damage.

The Aetas were some of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met, and as a group we were able to visit the Aetas’ nursery and help them plant over 1,000 seeds, and we also helped plant a couple trees. They were primarily growing trees to reforest the mountains, and I noticed that they did have a need for fruit plants. This made me feel better about what I’ve been doing with seed saving from the kitchen on the farm, even if it doesn’t feel like that much. They mostly still eat a lot of meat and hunt for their meals, although we did try fried ube (purple yam) chips and they were delicious. We got the chance to practice archery using their handmade bows and arrows, as well as learn some of their songs and dances. It was a very unique experience and I’m glad to have gone. It was also cool to see them preserve their culture while also being so similar to regular, modern society. I feel like there is a misconception that indigenous peoples live in the past, or in a primitive way, but really they are just people. We also got to learn about their herbal medicine beliefs. They still have a large amount of herbs growing in their village which they believe to have medicinal qualities for basically every type of ailment. I don’t remember any of the names of the plants, and it was nice to see a reliance and trust in the Earth’s healing qualities. If I have the chance to visit them again, I would do it in a heartbeat.

That is all for now.

JM

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