One of AGREA’s eight thrusts is intercultural collaboration. The opportunity to partner with Kaya Co. was an opportunity to bring fresh perspective into AGREA (through an intern) and to eventually take the stories and lives in Marinduque, Philippines to the outside world.
Early in 2017, AGREA became one of 20 organizations in the Philippines to partner with Kaya Co. and host intern(s) from the USA.
Kaya Co. is an organization that is working to activate the young-Filipino diaspora for social change in the Philippines. So far, 34 young balikbayans (literal trans., returnees; a person of Filipino descent, returning to the Philippines after years of living abroad) have made the trip under the Kaya Co. program.
Miguel Codiñera joined AGREA in late June 2017 and recently completed his 8-week internship. A Public Health and International Studies major from the American University in Washington DC., Miguel has a strong interest in agriculture and empowering rural communities. So much so that in 2016 he spent four months in Nairobi, Kenya as an Environmental Health Intern working with rural communities there.
During his time with AGREA, Miguel worked closely with the Department of Engagements and Negotiation and the Department of Business Opportunities. His experience included observing, contributing material to and designing evaluations for financial literacy modules delivered to 30 Marinduque farmers, consulting with a coconut sugar-producing cooperative, drafting proposals for funding, and contributing to AGREA’s organizational improvement.
SUHA-PPY (Happy Pomelo). Miguel is all smiles posing with Caroline Da Silva, AGREA Business Opportunities Associate (1st from L); Cherrie Atilano, AGREA President and Founding Farmer (4th from L); together with Micaela Faith Beltran (3rd from L) and Pam Ros Damarillo (5th from L), representatives from Kaya Cooperative and Creative Capital.
Here are some thoughts from Miguel, on his experience with AGREA:
Food has bigger implications on everything
For most of my life, I rarely paid attention to where (or who) my food comes from. All I knew was that everything was available at the local grocery store, and that was the end of that.
As a Filipino who grew up in the American suburbs, I have almost the complete opposite of a farming background. Although I have a few relatives in the Philippines with their own backyard farms, the topic of agriculture always felt distant to me. Among the fast food chains and bulk superstores of the U.S., I often saw food being appreciated for speed over sourcing; quantity over quality.
However, while studying sustainable development in college, I came to realize that food had bigger implications on everything from economies to health and the environment. Even more, I noticed how rural communities that supply food are often excluded from national conversations on climate change and development. Having led my university’s Filipino student group, I began to wonder how Fil-Ams could become effective allies to people tackling these challenges in the Philippine context.
This curiosity pushed me to apply for the Kaya Co. fellowship, which in turn placed me at the frontlines of AGREA. By reviewing social programs and business partnerships with various farming co-ops, I learned about issues faced by Filipino farmers as well as interventions through sustainable agriculture and community partnership.
The future of food is in a vulnerable position
Much like in the States, I learned that current farmers in the Philippines are aging while younger farmers are growing scarce. At a financial literacy training on AGREA’s model farm, I noticed that most of the farmers in attendance were middle-aged or older. I even met a farmer, Tatay Longino, who is still farming at 76 years old!
Meeting these elders made me respect their commitment to agriculture even more, and it made me think of the vulnerable position that future generations might experience if their talents are not passed down. In fact, Marinduque is still importing rice when communities could be growing and exporting their own. After visiting some beautiful rice fields around the island, I hope that this vision of self-reliance will continue to grow with AGREA.
Farmers are leaders, too
But I also saw that this dream would be nothing without the co-leadership of the farmers.
As I took notes at consultations with various farming cooperatives, I saw their ability to organize, make business decisions, and ask hard questions about the nature of AGREA’s assistance. Contrary to the “helpless” stereotype, I saw people eager to determine their own futures.
Collaborate towards fair and sustainable food systems
In the end, I am grateful to AGREA and Kaya Co. for enabling me to see how farmers and non-farmers can work together to build fair and sustainable food systems in the Philippines and beyond. Just from observing the AGREA team’s almost-familial interactions with Marinduque’s farmers, it was evident that the organization’s care for rural communities extended well beyond the harvest.
As I plan to pursue a career in international development and public health, I hope to share these stories with others while continuing to be mindful of the food we take for granted every day.