Slow Food


Mary and Vicky-- Welcome to the 2010 Terra Madre

Three years ago I began the process of nominating the heirloom rice of the Cordillera region to the Slow Food Foundation’s “Ark of Taste”. It seemed like a logical step in the effort to help preserve the native rice varieties still grown in the fragile ecosystems of the terraces and to validate the traditional farming practices that have kept those heirloom seeds alive.  In July 2010, the three nominated varieties were accepted into the Ark.  As a result of that designation, five farmers from the Cordillera Heirloom Rice Project plus Vicky Garcia, the executive director of RICE, Inc., the non-profit capacity building NGO, were invited to be delegates to the 2010 Slow Food Foundation’s Terra Madre gathering in Turin Italy October 19-25, 2010. As founder of the project and president of Eighth Wonder, Inc., the project’s US-based marketing partner, I was honored to join them at the Terra Madre as part of the Philippine delegation.

But to actually be sitting in the Palasport Olimpico in Turin Italy for the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Terra Madre was beyond my imagination. As I watched Blacio Akinchang, a farmer from a remote village in Mountain Province, carrying the Philippine flag during the opening ceremonies, the tears were streaming down my face.

Blacio Akinchang carries the Philippine flag during the opening ceremony

Blacio Akinchang carries the Philippine flag during the opening ceremony

I don’t think Blacio had ever been to Manila, let alone flown in an airplane. But there he was, an extremely proud farmer, representing not only our heirloom rice communities, but also the tens of thousands of indigenous farmers in the Cordillera still struggling to produce their native rice.

Blacio Akinchang

Blacio Akinchang

Philippine delegation in traditional dress

Philippine delegation in traditional dress

A tangible link had been made between these farmers and a supportive global community that understands and values the connection between indigenous knowledge, food, culture and environmental sustainability.

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It’s a common practice for the government to donate machines to farmers. It is not a common practice to provide follow up technical support on the operation and maintenance of the machines.

Three sets of custom-built post-harvest machines were designed, manufactured and installed for use in our project areas last year. (See our blog post August 23, 2009)

Operator's Training at PhilRice August 19-20, 2010

Operator's Training at PhilRice August 19-20, 2010

A basic operator training was given to the farmer/operators at the time of installation and the farmer/operators went on to successfully process their 2009 harvest for export sales and then subsequent amounts, throughout the year, for local domestic sales.

But machine operators felt that they needed a more intensive training on trouble shooting, repair and maintenance of their new machines. At the request of RICE, Inc., a training module was designed by the PhilRice Engineering Department, in coordination with JHT Manufacturing Company, the machine’s fabricator. A 2 day workshop at PhilRice August 19 and 20, 2010 provided a well organized training with both lectures and a “hands-on” practicum.

Operators were given hands on experience with processing machines

Operators were given hands on experience with processing machines

The trainers were excellent. They were able to present highly technical information in a practical way that made sense to the farmers. A training manual was written that outlined and described step-by-step processes; it was made easy with pictures and outlined descriptions. At least five different languages were spoken among the trainers and the eight participating farmer/operators. It was important that all operators learned and used a common language for the parts of the machines and the tools that they used.

The second day of the training focused on the “actual” troubleshooting and operation of the machine. Although the machines were not identical models, the participants were challenged to understand basic functions. Working as provincial teams, the participants had to dismantle and reassemble the “dehuller-grain paddy separator.” Each team had to work together; they had to understand how each part of the machine worked, and explain to the trainers what they were doing as they reassembled the machine.

An improperly used worn rubber roll

An improperly used worn rubber roll

The “rubber roll” shown at the left, which is used in dehulling the grain, is the perfect example of why there is a need for such training. The rubber rolls are very expensive parts. Not manufactured in the Philippines, they must be imported from Thailand or Vietnam. The rolls should be able to dehull at least 30MT of palay before they show wear. But this roller was worn out before 10 metric tons were dehulled. This indicates that the machine was not operated properly and that wear and tear on other parts of the machine would probably be indicated.

Training was also given on the micro-mill.

The project is still in need of a winnowing/air screen-cleaning machine to replace the hand winnowing currently being done. PhilRice is working on an appropriate design but we will still need to raise funds for the manufacturing and procurement of the machine.

PhilRice Deputy Director Eulito Bautista stopped by to observe the training and to highlight the partnership of PhilRice and the Cordillera Heirloom Rice Project. He said that the partnership still has much work to do in order to help the terraces farmers achieve the benefits of post harvest technology in their farming activity.

Learning the tools, the parts and even proper electrical wiring

Learning the tools, the parts and even proper electrical wiring

All agreed that it was a very successful training. Participants had achieved a new confidence as operators. They went home with new skills and a Machine Manual for Operators. PhilRice provided a holistic training design with very thorough, knowledgeable trainers and in an atmosphere of partnership.  They also acknowledged the importance of follow up support to farmers who receive new machines and technologies.

We would like to sincerely thank PhilRice for their continued partnership on this project.  We would especially like to thank the Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) at Benguet State University for the counter-part support in funding this training.

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It’s official! The International Ark Commission of the Slow Food Foundation has approved the inclusion of three varieties of heirloom rice from the Philippine Cordillera into the Foundation’s “Ark of Taste.”

Official listing of Philippine heirloom rice to the "Ark of Taste"

Official listing of Philippine heirloom rice to the "Ark of Taste"

Ominio (top) and Imbuucan (below) grains

Ominio (top) and Imbuucan grains (below)

The “Ark of Taste” aims to catalog, describe and publicize outstanding gastronomic foods and food products that are threatened in our globally changing world. Inclusion in the Ark means that the rice has met the foundation’s standards for taste quality, environmental sustainability and respect for the cultural identity of the producers. All products listed in the Ark are recognized to have real economic viability and commercial potential.

With listing of the first three rice varieties from Cordillera–Imbuucan from Ifugao, Ominio from Mountain Province and Chong-ak from Kalinga, the high-elevation terrace farmers are one step closer to making their heirloom rice an economic engine for the region and a means for preserving the fragile biodiversity of the terraces and the cultural identity of the indigenous people.

Imbuucan (left) and Chong-ak grains (right)

Imbuucan (left) and Chong-ak grains (right)

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One of our most exciting project developments is our new connection to the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity (Italy). It seems an obvious alliance.

The Slow Food Foundation is a worldwide organization that has a mission to defend food biodiversity by supporting sustainable agriculture that safeguards the environment and the land. It promotes the production of small-scale quality food products and respect for cultural and gastronomic traditions.

One of the Foundation’s central initiatives is the “Ark of Taste”, which is a catalog of hundreds of extraordinary food products that are at risk of extinction. The rice of the Cordillera certainly fits the Foundation’s criteria for listing. The native rice of the Cordillera is not only an outstanding food product with a superior flavor, appearance and texture, but also, the rice is deeply intertwined with the culture of the indigenous people. Designation to the list would be one more step in the effort to get the international recognition and someday, the legal protection that the rice and the indigenous knowledge of the farmers deserves.

Mary Hensley, Ben Watson and Vicky Garcia (taking the picture) met in New Hampshire in October 2009

Mary Hensley, Ben Watson and Vicky Garcia (taking the picture) met in New Hampshire in October 2009

With the help and assistance of Ben Watson, the US representative to the International Ark Commission, we were able to formulate a strategy for nominating the rice to the Ark.

Initially, three varieties would be nominated–one variety from each of the provinces where the project operates. The varieties include the Imbuucan of Hingyon, Ifugao (Eighth Wonder’s Tinawon Fancy), the Chong-ak variety of Pasil, Kalinga (aka Kalinga Unoy) and the Ominio variety of Barlig, Mountain Province (aka Mountain Violet Sticky Rice).

RICE, Inc.’s staff and the local municipal agriculture technicians collected the technical information needed for the applications and the applications were submitted to the Slow Food Foundation in Italy in January 2010.

Kalinga delegate Rowena Sawil (l) and Rowena Gonnay (r) inspect rice bundles with researcher Giselle Aris (center)

Kalinga delegates Rowena Sawil (l) and Rowena Gonnay (r) inspect rice bundles with researcher Giselle Aris (center)

As a result of the nominations, Vicky Garcia and 5 farmers have been selected as delegates to the Foundation’s Terra Madre conference in Turin, Italy this coming October! The Terra Madre is an international gathering of over 7,000 food producers, chefs, food writers, students and educators. Every two-year, delegates from all over the world gather to discus global food sustainability issues and celebrate the gastronomic traditions of the whole world.

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Stay tuned for updates!

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