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10 December 2008

Subic Aetas venture into farm project

A nine-hectare vegetable farm is now thriving at the hilly village of Pastolan in this freeport after members of the indigenous Aeta tribe converted part of their land into a green garden and demonstration farm with the assistance of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA).

The green garden project, which was launched under the SBMA’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program, was aimed at increasing the household income of some 200 Aeta families living in Pastolan.

Kenette Fernando, SBMA Deputy Administrator for Corporate Communications, said the Aeta community had recently planted the farm with sweet potato, cassava, gabi tubers and black pepper.

“Now, they are looking forward to harvesting their first crop in March,” she said.

Pastolan village chieftain Conrado Frenilla said the green garden project started as a concept of the SBMA Public Relations Department and was implemented jointly by the Aeta tribal council and the department’s community relations officers.

“A few months ago, the SBMA brought us to a Taiwanese green garden and demo farm in Castillejos, Zambales and it was where we got some ideas on vegetable farming and marketing techniques that we hope to apply in our area,” Frenilla said.

He said clearing the nine-hectare project site was quite difficult because it was rocky and full of hardy grass, and they lacked suitable farming equipment. “But little by little, we coped and cleared the area using only jungle bolos, rakes and our albino carabao named Tisoy,” he added.

Frenilla also expressed appreciation to the SBMA “for its continuous support to various Aeta communities in Subic” in terms of employment, scholarship grants, livelihood skill trainings and infrastructure projects.

Aside from Pastolan, four other Aeta villages are located in the Subic Bay Freeport, most of them in remote hills and jungles where the natives used to forage for food.

Gigi Estalilla, an SBMA community relations’ officer who oversees the Pastolan green garden project, said work in the Aeta communities is hard but very rewarding.“Twice or thrice a week, we hike several kilometers from the main road up to the farm to check on the progress of the crops,” he said.

To start the project, 10 workers were hired through the SBMA Ecology Center, said Estalilla. “But soon, the villagers came to volunteer in clearing the land, tilling the soil, and planting the crops.”

The Aeta villagers also helped put up an irrigation system that used a network of bamboo tubes to bring in water from a nearby stream. The farm uses organic fertilizers made from composted leaves, tree bark and animal manure.

With the vegetable farm project now underway, Frenilla said, Pastolan villagers are now planning to develop another five hectares of land for a similar venture.

“We plan to plant this with fruit-bearing trees, and maybe put up a herbal garden, too,” Frenilla said, adding that the SBMA has promised to help them with marketing their farm produce. (SBMA Corporate Communications)

Photo Caption: Aeta tribesmen at the Pastolan village in the Subic Bay Freeport tend a vegetable farm, which was launched under the corporate social responsibility program of the SBMA.

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