Thursday, August 18, 2005

Save the tree of life campaign

See, not everyone is cursing the darkness or wallowing helplessly in the political quagmire we are in. Not everyone is threatening to leave for parts unknown where the sun shines brightly, there to momentarily forget the hovering darkness that envelops the country, made darker still by more dark deeds, dark schemes, dark motives.

But yes, if you think this is darkness before daybreak, think again. This is more like darkness at noon and it’s still a long way to midnight and the breaking of a new day.

But there are so many reasons to be hopeful if only we cast a glance at the other side of the septic tank and go toward it.

This week, the Atikha Overseas Filipinos and Communities Initiatives, Inc. is launching a fund drive that intends to help save the coconut tree, push other community initiatives related to it, as well as develop coconut-based enterprises that will create jobs in Laguna and nearby areas.

This is being launched in the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and New York in the USA as well as in Ontario and Toronto in Canada.

Atikha, which is spearheading this, was established in 1996 as an offshoot of a study on the social impact of women’s migration on families and communities in Laguna. Separation brought about by migration caused family difficulties. But more than that, all the years of separation bore fruit of a different kind—dependency on remittances and uncontrolled spending on the part of those left behind. Many overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), upon returning home for good, find out their sacrifices were all for naught.

Atikha is slowly being recognized not only as a service NGO but as a catalyst in the field of migration and development. Mag-atikha means to save and Atikha has done a lot to harness the human and economic potential of OFWs and their families so that they could contribute to community development.

There is the Batang Atikha Savers Club, the Koop Balikabayani International Savings and Credit Cooperative, the Overseas Filipinos and Women Center. Atikha also develops and assists community-based social enterprises, among them, organic farming and production of coconut-based items. These boost job creation in the rural areas. Atikha helped establish Sweet Greens Ecofarm, Inc. which is into organic farming and sustainable agriculture.

Atikha’s new target and focus is the coconut.

Atikha executive director Mai Anonuevo along with chair Fr. Jerry Bitoon and Koop Balikabayani general manager Celso Chosas are now abroad for the Save the Tree of Life fund drive in the US and Canada.

The drive encourages individuals and groups to each donate $50. Atikha will plant a coconut in the donor’s name and take care of it until it bears fruit. Part of the $50 contribution will be used as seed capital to purchase equipment for coconut-based enterprises. Another part will be for training in business and zero-waste management.

Coconuts abound in Laguna and Quezon but new ones have to planted to ensure continuity in the future. The coconuts will be planted in selected barangays. The community organizations will manage the plantation as well as the production of virgin coconut oil, coir, paper and other handicrafts.

The coconut is literally a tree of life for Filipinos. Each part of the tree, from its roots that go down deep into the earth, to its crown of swaying palm fronds, flowers and fruits has uses.

A shipwreck survivor swept away and marooned on a coconut island could subsist on coconuts and use everything the tree could provide until help comes. But Filipinos seem to take coconuts for granted. And one of the biggest abuses committed against coconut farmers was the devil-invented coconut levy during the martial law years. When will the funds go back to their rightful beneficiaries?

In the meantime, we cannot wait for the proverbial coconut to fall by itself. The tree of life has to be made part of life and livelihood. This is what Atikha has trying to do.

According to a paper released by Atikha, about 25 percent of the Philippines’ arable land is planted to coconut. We used to be the second largest coconut producer in the world. But a 1996 report of the Asian and Pacific Coconut Community says the Philippines now ranks third in productivity after Indonesia and India.

Southern Tagalog, supposedly the second largest coconut producer in the Philippines had negative annual growth rate in coconut hectarage from 1990 to 1997 as well as low productivity. Atikha says that while Southern Mindanao is able to harvest 87 nuts per tree, Southern Luzon yields only 31 nuts per tree. This could be due to unselected and genetically poor plant materials and an increasing number of senile trees.

The decline in coconut hectarage could be due to unregulated cutting of coconut trees meant to counter the log ban in forests. Coconut land have also been converted for housing and industrial purposes. Coconut farmers who used to earn P5,000 per harvest not earn P5,000 per year.

No wonder, many Filipinos from coconut regions have left to toil abroad. Atikha serves communities in so-called coconut country, namely, Laguna and Quezon as well as Batangas.

Save the coconut, save OFW families and communities.


Pancake House called to air their side on the hold up incident inside their Quezon Ave. branch that I wrote about two weeks ago. Pancake rep Bernadette Lee said they have addressed security and staff preparedness to ensure customer safety. I listened. Later, the food chain sent gift certificates worth P2,000. I cannot accept these, I told Pancake House. Okay, for the very hungry and poor then.