June 23, 2024

The Many Flavors in Bangar Upland Tree Farm Association’s History

If you have had a taste of Pickled Papaya or Atsara, you would be able to taste not only the sweet, tangy flavor of the process of its pickling, but you would also be able to glimpse into the history of how it was made. In Nueva Vizcaya, you can outsource your pickled papaya from a small organization in Barangay Bangar, Solano, Nueva Vizcaya. The land area of Barangay Bangar is geographically bifurcated by a road winding up north, which is intersected by a long irrigation canal. You wouldn’t miss such a prominent hill speckled with several houses after passing through myriads of commercial buildings and fields. There, behind the trees that dotted the hill, is a witness to the history of a community-based enterprise by Bangar Upland Tree Farm Association that dwelled in preserving Papaya. 

In the 1990s, the Sitio of Singnian in Barangay Bangar was parcellarized for Integrated Social Forestry Program. In 2001, BUTFA was recorded to have entered the registry of DOLE in the year of 2001 as a Legitimate Rural Workers Association with originally more or less 50 members. It was also during this year that they entered a Community-Based Forest Management (CBFM) Agreement covering the 26 hectares of land area rolling on the hills. Since then, the organization members have elected to position the same president and vice president. Until 2020, when the president had passed away, the weight of their position had ultimately been transferred to Mr. Jose Cabañeros Fariñas Jr., who has worked with the organization since 2010.

It was then recognized by the members that it be appropriate that the Presidency of the organization be laid on the shoulders of someone like Mr. Fariñas who had dedicated more than a decade to the organization while working as a lineman in Nueva Vizcaya Electric Cooperative (Nuvelco). Other than this, the area where his house is situated was deemed crucial – not only because he had the forest area of Bangar just outside the doorsteps of his humble abode but also due to the fact that he had a wide range of fruit-bearing trees in his backyard. This is where the idea of pickling papaya arose.

There was a vast orchard of papaya growing on the supple land towered over by Mr. Fariñas’ house. It was more efficient and practical than just efficient for the organization to also decide that they designate the area around the orchard as the production zone of their pickled papaya. According to Mr. Fariñas, of the 81 currently registered members, the members who remained actively involved in the production process was composed of people who had lived more lives than the younger generation. While these members were reaching their senior years and while these very members had come from different parts of the municipality of Solano – some hailing from Bascaran, a neighboring Barangay, they allocated the majority of their time in the pursuit for success of the community-based enterprise of their organization. 

Their pickled papaya begins requiring labor in the process of harvesting barely ripe papaya, from the orchard of Mr. Fariñas and from all other members with fruit-bearing papaya plants. Then they would have to wash the fruit to remove the sap which coats the fruit when it receives unusual weight, and then they would have to peel until it is ready for shredding. The shredded fruit would have to be doused in salt and then soaked in hot water before it undergoes a tedious process of pressing to extract the unnecessary water content. This step ensures that the pickling process would yield positive results. They would also have to chop and slice other necessary ingredients that are outsourced from organic farms – this then accentuates the flavor of their pickled papaya before it is poured with their own recipe of solution for pickling. All these laborious steps impose collaboration and camaraderie among the members, demanding more than just labor but actual coordination. In fact, Mr. Fariñas even says that the members are lining up to be part of the process.

The products of their efforts in the form of a 250-gram pickled papaya that is made of locally-grown ingredients guaranteed to have strayed from the use of pesticides and inorganic chemicals had resulted in fruition for the organization. Their jars of papaya pickles were readily available for their linkages in the Provincial Capitol and the engineering office of the provincial government, and they were even given the chance in early 2010s to market their own product in the Nueva Vizcaya cultural festival, Ammungan Festival. They also sell their products to their partners in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Trade and Industry, and even on a more astounding note, a wholesale of their product had even reached Canada.

But Mr. Fariñas was not one to sugarcoat the journey they undertook. He stated that even though their papaya pickle was a success, the organization took a toll in terms of its organizational productivity due to the increase of inactive members and an event of betrayal that had impinged a sense of distrust in the officers that were supposed to lead their fellow members. In a sad, defeated tone, “It was supposed to be collective… but…” (“Tulong-tulong lang sana… kaso…”) he trails off. It was a challenge that subjected the remaining active members to an obvious disadvantage, incapacitating them in continuing their Banana chips production, and bred a seed of distrust, and yet they knew it was merely a hiccup in their way. In fact, the organization was to welcome 28 more members by March 20, a few days after the interview with Mr. Fariñas. These 28 members were from organizations that were about to be dissolved and their willingness and dedication to the concept of being part of a functioning organization shone a glimmer of hope to BUTFA – that perhaps, this would recalibrate the organization and encourage a resurgence of activities.

Of course, who wouldn’t want to be part of an organization who was not only stewards of a 26-hectare forest area while maintaining the balance of empowering their members? The BUTFA was able to request grass cutter that the organization members would be able to borrow and use for their own gardens and they were also able to secure a grant that would improve the production process of their enterprise that rewarded them in more ways than one.

The foundations of their production area were originally the corners of a small pond that Mr. Fariñas used for his Tilapia fish farm. With the amount of PhP 150,000 that they secured from the ASSERT CBFM green business startup grant, they were able to envision a positive future for their shed. They used this funding opportunity to improve their area and secure large-volume equipment as well as instruments that will further enhance the efficiency of their process. The simplicity of purchasing a functional strainer offered much remuneration to their manual straining and squeezing. 

With the grant they received, remarkably Mr. Fariñas says, “Mas nakilala ko ang komunidad” (I was able to understand the community more). This was a testament to one of the objectives of integrating the community to their enterprise and to the dynamics of their organization. In the future, he wishes that the proposed PhP 2-million worth of Farm-to-Market Road will materialize and reopen the road that was once closed, linking the forests that are within the area of a neighboring CBFM organization, Ben Pablo CBFM. He expresses a slight envy as he recounts his experience in interacting with the Macatumbalen Community-based Forest and Coastal Management Association (MCBFCMA), “Unlike the CBFM in Macatumbalen, where the youth are very active and participative” (“Hindi katulad (sa CBFM) sa Macatumbalen, aktibo ang mga bata”). With this, it can be read that he was hoping that the youth in Bangar become more involved to sustain the intergenerational transfer of knowledge from their senior citizen-dominated membership.