By Fr. Shay Cullen
(His columns are published in The Manila Times,
in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line)
Hiking through the Zambales hills visiting the villages of the Aeta indigenous people is an exhilarating and yet saddening experience. I have been thinking about my recent visits to the villages of the aboriginal people that first settled the Philippine islands and survived for thousands of years as hunters and gatherers in the abundant rain forests. Today, their future is uncertain and fraught with danger.
There, they developed a simple but beautiful culture that was at one with nature. They never over-hunted; their numbers were well-balanced for survival and healthy living. They had a well developed herbal medical practice that helped them survive thousands of years like the natives of the Amazon forests without modern medicine or much contact with the western world.
They protected the natural habitat and the native birds and animals thrived. Their cultural dances imitate the creatures of the forest such as their respect for nature. Today, all that has changed, the forests and animals are long gone and a greatly diminished environment is all that remains.
When the American-Spanish war broke out in 1898 and soon became the American-Filipino war, 90 percent or more of the rainforests were intact. Today, there is hardly three percent left, all have been logged out and mostly shipped abroad. After the World War II, the logging hardly ever stopped still today it continues. In Pangasinan on Western Luzon Island, a fifty kilometer road has been cut there the last remaining rainforest.
Loggers are still at it and either the government agencies are in cahoots or totally inept to stop it. In the village of Hukay, Calatagan Batangas, huge swaths of mangrove have been cut to shreds damaging the land, causing erosion and the ocean to invade the rice fields and causing a huge loss to the agriculture in the area. Food loss is the result, hunger soon follows.
Their survival depends on mixed farming and the bonus of the mango harvest. They too are facing food crises as prices of rice and other essential commodities increase and the prices that they get for their root crops, bananas, wild honey and mangos have been getting lower. Traders exploit them without compassion. It is only the Preda Fair Trade that buys from them at just and fair prices and delivers some social benefits to enhance their lives and help some of their children go to school. Government services and help hardly ever reach them.
They are part of the 4.5 million Filipinos who say they go hungry from time to time and part of the one billion people seriously hungry all the time worldwide. When drought hits, the result of climate change due to industrial pollution, famine can overwhelm them in a few months. That’s when the rains fail and the soil turns to dust blown in the wind. That’s when you see the skeletons of dead cattle and emaciated skeletal babies dying in their mother’s arms.
As I said in a previous column, 300 children die every hour every day worldwide for the lack of food. Malnutrition is with us and the millennium goal to eliminate or greatly reduce this hunger will not be reached by 2015.
The poor people in the developing world are facing a growing food crises that is getting more serious. Most of them do not have fertile land or the means to plant and nurture it. The best lands are owned and protected and unused by rich and wealthy families. It is investment in property for them not land to use for growing food.
Besides, even unused public land is not distributed with the means to help poor families grow their own food, they are turning the land into housing projects for the rich or they are leasing the land to foreign companies for food production to be shipped back to foreign lands.
There will be an additional 2.5 billion people in the world by 2050, how can they survive? If we act now and get involved with the agencies fighting the world hunger through Fair Trade and social justice, we can help halt the destruction of the environment and end chronic hunger. This we cannot ignore, we cannot turn away, we have to stand up for them and help them overcome the food crises. END