I am in my last week here on the farm, and I am ready to come home, but it does feel bittersweet. In hindsight, these past two months have flown by, and I do already feel changed by this experience. I also feel as though I am part of the community, which is terrible timing, but it really feels like I have assimilated into the Enchanted Farm community. Instead of people starring and asking me who I am and how long I’ll be here and what I’m doing, they instead just say hello and ask how I’m doing, or invite me to lunch or to help them with what they are doing. Laurence and I had a big dinner with Tita Aida and her whole extended family yesterday, and although we weren’t always talking, it was nice and I felt welcome and at home. So, needless to say, the experience is wrapping up and I’ll soon be back in Chicago, but this last weekend we had the opportunity to travel north to Baler, a popular surfing destination, for our last weekend getaway. Though the waves were rather flat, we still had fun and we were able to go trekking through the fully-forested mountains. We were actually in a watershed, so we were able to go to a river and swim and I learned that the water in the nearby town has a constant source of free water because of their proximity to the river. The town was home to the Altas, another native people and ethnic minority in the Philippines. We got to eat lunch with them— jack fruit and coconut milk dish was delicious!
Later on we visited a small cocoa farm and got to try their sugar-free chocolate ice cream. Despite the ability to grow cocoa in the Philippines, not much land is dedicated to cocoa production. I learned that the Philippines actually imports over 80% of their chocolate products, but this importation issue is not specific to chocolate alone. I have noticed that imported products dominate the shelves here in the Philippines. This can be a bad thing for a couple reasons. If there is a mindset that imported products are superior, products made in the Philippines are not likely to thrive and there will be no pride in products made domestically. This issue is being confronted by several social enterprises on the farm, including Plush and Play and First Harvest. Additionally, while a trade deficit is not necessarily a bad thing, if the Philippines continues to export raw materials, this could generate less wealth than if they were to manufacture processed products like coconut oil, peanut butter or coffee. Although the Philippines produces the most coconuts in the world, I have still yet to see coconut oil being sold in stores. At home, all the coconut oil I’ve used usually says “coconuts product of the Philippines.” I do acknowledge that this is a complex issue, and there might not be a domestic market for such products, but if agriculture and industry were to be pared together here in the Philippines, intuitively this would mean a cheaper product for Filipinos. But alas, we live in a globalized world where it is cheaper to manufacture goods in elongated supply chains that involve transporting goods around the world. Like the current cocoa production, another issue is underproduction of certain agricultural products, such as coffee and peanuts. Agriculture does not account for that large of a percentage of the economy, however it does account for a larger portion of the workforce. About 25-30% of the workforce is employed as farmers, and many of them make just enough to feed themselves and their families. Increased coffee, cocoa or peanut production also has the ability to help the currently unemployed. Another interesting thing is that even though coffee is produced here in the Philippines and there is a rather large consumption rate, everyone drinks nescafe or some other instant coffee. These are just a few of the things I’ve been observing that I find interesting.
Growth in the Philippines has been relatively constant over the past few years, which is a good sign, especially considering the fact that foreign direct investment has been limited due to laws that restrict foreign ownership of land and important sectors of the economy. The 2017 World Happiness Index actually rates the Philippines 72nd, in comparison to neighboring China (79) and Indonesia (81). This score may be a better indicator of social progress compared to the usual monetary indicators of development, such as GDP growth.
While my experiences in the Philippines mostly come from a rural perspective, it has been intriguing to observe the development in this country over these last two months. For one thing, I have been on a couple social/eco-tourism trips through MAD Travel, which has been incredible to see a harmonious relationship between business and the conservation of the environment, and helping an indigenous community, in the case of the Aetas. I remember learning that tourists often bring a lot of pollution (in all forms) with them, which is something I have even witnessed firsthand on the farm. Another interesting aspect of development in the Philippines is the level of cell phone/ internet usage. I know it is now popular for developing nations to skip the landline phase of telecommunications, but I am actually impressed by the amount of people who have smartphones and internet access here in Angat. I have also observed the lack of middle class here in the Philippines. While traveling through Manila, I’ve experienced overpopulation and seen the pollution, and been in an extremely nice neighborhood and then 20 minutes later been passing by a very poor slum. One of the last things that has been very evident over the past two months, especially by traveling on the weekends, is the poor infrastructure. We’ve been traveling to places that are only 150 miles (250km) away, but it takes half a day to drive there. The lack of proper housing is another aspect of infrastructure, which is still the chief mission of Gawad Kalinga to help end poverty in the Philippines. While I am noticing all of these things, I have to say that Filipinos are still among the nicest and most hard working people I’ve ever met. Despite all the environmental and social issues in the Philippines, the people are incredibly kind and resilient.