Of the Abundance of Nutrients and Culture in the Indigenous Corn Fields of Mindoro, Philippines – MASIPAG Luzon’s Annual Regional Conference of Corn

October 12, 2023

by MASIPAG National Office

From September 12 to 14, MASIPAG Luzon spearheaded by its farmer leaders, conducted the MASIPAG Regional Corn Conference in Oriental Mindoro. During the three-day conference, local and indigenous farmer members of MASIPAG discussed and exchanged knowledge regarding farmer-led agroecological corn farming. A corn expedition, in a bid to retrieve and revitalize the traditional corn seeds of the indigenous communities in Mindoro, was also conducted.  Amid the wild scale proliferation of the highly chemical dependent and corporate owned genetically modified (GM) and hybrid corn in the island, MASIPAG farmers are more than ever determined in forging and forwarding the farmers’ sustainable alternative.

Local and indigenous farmers from the Mangyan indigenous community through their organization SAPALA warmly welcomed the participants of MASIPAG Luzon’s Regional Conference. Attended by representatives of organic corn farmers from the five clusters of MASIPAG Luzon hailing from northern and central Luzon, southern Tagalog, Bicol, and south western Tagalog cluster, the said conference was hosted by the farmers’ organization SAPALA of the south western Tagalog cluster.

On the first day, participants presented their expectations, including the sharing of knowledge and methods to preserve native and traditional corn, collect and exchange different varieties of local and organic corn as an alternative to GM corn farming in the island. Regional Advocacy officer of MASIPAG Luzon Ryan Damaso facilitated the discussion with an emphasis on the importance of organic and native corn farmers in the island as the source of sustainable, safe, adequate, and accessible food and livelihood in the province.  

According to the government’s data, corn is the second biggest grain food of the Filipinos next to rice contributing to approximately ten billion pesos in the country’s annual GDP. Yet such contribution is not being felt for the better of many of the corn farmers in the country as the much of the seeds and cultivation of the corn in the country falls into the GMO and conventional chemical farming – an industry where big agri-TNCs are the sole players and gainers in this venture. Worse, traditional and native corns being conserved by our local and indigenous farmers for hundred of years are now at the brink of extinction due to chemical and genetic contamination brought by chemical farming.

Chemical corn farming is also one of the drivers of climate change and environmental destruction in the country with duty bearers and scientists already attributing its detrimental effects to soil degradation and water contamination resulting to flashfloods and overall weakening of the country’s local biodiversity. During the massive flooding in the Cagayan Valley in November of 2020, town mayor Cristina Antonio pointed to the yellow corn plantations and the use of chemical herbicides in the slopes of the province’ mountains as one of the contributors to the flood with the eroded soils cause by chemical herbicides clogging the province’s dikes and rivers. Mayor Antonio tallied around 100,000 families as severely affected by the flooding, with six barangays totally submerged and 5,000 homes underwater.

Franklin Campos, Staff from the National Office of MASIPAG discussed the MASIPAG corn program according to which the first MASIPAG Corn Conference was held in 1998 in Negros Occidental in the Visayas region. Attended by MASIPAG farmers from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, the delegates discussed and exchanged seeds and knowledge on the remaining traditional corn varieties (and the local and indigenous practices associated with it) that they have collected around the country. Delegates from Visayas and Mindanao identified their areas as Corn Ecological Islands. Mindanao in particular was designated as the center and will serve as the first Back Up Farm conservation for the retrieved traditional corn seeds.

Today, as a crucial response from MASIPAG’s overall program in its Corn revitalization program due to the worsening condition of corn farmers brought by the unsustainability of chemical corn farming, MASIPAG Luzon has begun revitalizing its partial program on the collection, identification, multiplication, and evaluation of its collected local and traditional corn varieties. In particular, Mindoro was the first area identified as one of the remaining strongholds of farmers who continuously cultivate and develop local and traditional corn seeds, with majority of its farms situated in the ancestral lands and being taken care of the Mangyan Indigenous community themselves.

Between the discussions, workshops were conducted to assess and examine the results and effects of the past implementations of the corn program of MASIPAG and how it can be strengthened in the entire Luzon region. Learning exchanges on local and traditional methods of corn farming were also conducted led by no less than farmer trainers and leaders Robert Estuesta of Mindoro and Lauro Diego of Bataan.

On the other, the corn expedition yielded nearly twenty varieties of native, traditional, and indigenous corn in the area some of which bears indigenous and local names identified by the local community such as “Sinamnit, Marianas, Malagkit na Puti, Bangil Agipo, Binunanym, Kastumba” among others.

“We have learned a lot in this conference. Our knowledge as local and indigenous farmers should not be put behind but rather be more visible in the front and on the side – for that in any and every moment, our fellow farmers can use and adapt it in their own communities” said Tay Tonyo of the Mangyan Hanunuo indigenous community and an active member of SAPALA farmers’ organization.