At peace with the land

Is there a way to make a living without killing the environment?

For a country that sees thousands of deaths every year due to exacerbated effects of super-typhoons, this is a major question. Lives have been claimed and billions worth of infrastructure have been damaged due to intense floods and landslides brought by forest denudation, river siltation, excessive garbage pile-up and indiscriminate extractive industries.

Right now, the forest cover in the Philippines loses 262,500 hectares every year. Agricultural practices in the Philippines are mostly mono-cropping, slashing trees in exchange for cash crops which are heavily reliant on inorganic fertilizers and pesticides. People know the destruction they are wreaking on the environment but “is there an alternative?”

This is an issue that Peacebuilders Community Inc. (PBCI) encounters in most communities it works with. An outgrowth of the work of Mennonite Church Witness workers Dann and Joji Pantoja, PBCI started in 2006 in Mindanao, the southern part of the Philippines, which faces decades-long of armed conflict. Non-state armed groups are very active there fuelled by corruption, unequal wealth distribution, discrimination and historical injustices that started in the colonial conquest and continues until now.

As PBCI engages with the communities there, the people ask, “how can we talk about peace when our stomachs are hungry?” Thus the need to search for solutions to address the economic need of the people and at the same time taking care of the environment in accordance to the biblical definition of peace which is:

  • Harmony with the Creator – spiritual transformation
  • Harmony with the being – psychosocial transformation
  • Harmony with others – socio-political transformation
  • Harmony with the creation – economic-ecological transformation

One of the solutions that came out was coffee production. PBCI noticed that Christians, Muslims and lumads (Indigenous peoples in Mindanao) offer coffee to their visitors. Coffee then became an icon of peace because these three groups that are usually at odds with each other has this in common. Thus, Coffee for Peace Inc. was conceptualized in 2008.

Furthermore, coffee thrives best in a balanced ecology since coffee absorbs flavour from its environment. Coffee then, encourages reforestation and environmentally-friendly farming practices.

Using fair trade principles to create a just, sustainable value chain, PBCI trains the farmers on peace and reconciliation, coffee production and processing, fair trade, and social entrepreneurship.

In the central part of the Philippines, the community of Immanuel Christian Assembly of God Church (ICACG) in Pres. Roxas, Capiz experienced the wrath of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. As a result, their sources of income and houses were terribly damaged. They needed to rehabilitate their economy and at the same time build up their own capacities so that they can immediately help when another disaster strikes. They also needed to address the forest denudation of their hills which are mostly planted with corn.

In February 2017, ICACG invited PBCI to train them. As of December, they have reforested the hills with 5,000 coffee trees which is expected to bear fruit in 2020. To help in their everyday needs, they intercropped various vegetables in their coffee farm without using inorganic fertilizers and pesticides. In the next five years, ICACG will reforest 25 more hectares with 25,000 coffee trees. They are being asked by four nearby barangays (villages) who have the same issues of poverty and intensive deforestation to teach them the principles of organic faming and the peace and reconciliation framework.

These communities are living testimonies that we do not have to kill our environment in order to live. We can be in harmony with the creation just as the Creator had commanded us to do.

—Twinkle A. Bautista is a missionary for peace and reconciliation in Kalinga, the Philippines, where she works with the Anabaptist-rooted Peacebuilders Community Inc.

This article first appeared in Courier/Correo/Courrier April 2018.

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