It’s no secret that in the past, most residents in Barangay Bacungan make ends meet by engaging in illegal logging. Life is hard and harsh, there’s no other choice for them except to cling to the knife’s edge or “kumapit sa patalim” to get by, so to speak.
Sonny Tesado, an illegal logger turned organic farmer at the Yamang Bukid, said no matter how dangerous it was, he had to cut trees or there will be no food to eat for his family or send his children to school.
He said the business of illegal logging was lucrative because the wood supply was in demand since forest laws prohibit mass cutting. His earning for one or two days can go a long way for the family he needed to feed.
“Dati malaki rin ang kinikita sa pagto-troso, pero delikado ‘yong trabaho. Hindi rin palagi’ yon kasi minsan sa isang buwan, dalawang beses lang kami nakakapag-troso dahil patago lang naman namin ginagawa itong trabaho,” he said.
But when what you’re doing is illegal, what’s bound to happen will happen, he said.
Tesado got caught by forest wardens of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) while in the act of illegally cutting a tree in Bacungan. Literally, he had to beg not to be charged in court and detained in jail.
“Kinailangan kung magmakaawa at makiusap para huwag akong makasuhan at makulong. Sobrang pag-aalala ko sa pamilya ko noon. Kung nakulong ako, walang maghahanapbuhay,” he said.
After the incident, Tesado said he vowed never to go back to illegal logging. However, only after a few weeks, he was lured to go back since they needed the money.
His life only changed 14 months ago, Tesado said, when the Yamang Bukid came to their village and offered not only him but many other illegal loggers the chance to renew their lives by working as organic farmers.
Sonny Apdon may not have been an illegal logger in Bacungan village, but his life too was changed by Yamang Bukid.
Apdon said it was Yamang Bukid that showed the people in their rural village that agritourism will not only provide additional income and fresh employment opportunities but also increased conservation of the environment and appreciation of rural lifestyle.
“Malaki ang binago ng Yamang Bukid sa buhay naming mga residente dito sa Barangay Bacungan. Pinakita nila sa amin na araw-araw ay may magandang rason upang gumising sa umaga nang masigla at magpursige para magkaroon ng masaganang buhay,” Apdon said.
Farm manager Daniel Anjan said the Agros is a way of showing deep appreciation to the farmers and workers of Yamang Bukid, and to the surrounding communities that have been nothing but supportive of their quest for sustainable agro-tourism.
Their Yamang Bukid farmers and workers, he pointed out, take the limelight particularly for choosing the right thing when they left their illegal logging activities to work with them.
“Sa 180 na empleyado dito sa bukid, halos lahat sa kanila ay mga dating illegal loggers. Ngayong sila ay mga magsasaka na ay kaisa na din natin sila sa mga tumutulong sa produksyon ng pagkain. Unti-unti nilang nababawi ang kanilang mga sarili sa maling nakagawian at nakakatulong na sila sa paglago ng ekonomiya ng komunidad ng Bacungan,” said Anjan.
Anjan said considerable prominence is placed on farm tourism at present in the country because of its potential to relieve the low-income problem in rural communities and ensure their long-term viability.
He said aside from its offer of rural economic development, farm tourism also presents the idea of alleviating poverty by making community people work together to become profitable within the tourism industry.
“Isa rin ito sa paraan para matugunan ang food security dahil naoobserbahan nga na marami ng mga magsasaka ang nagaabandona ng kanilang farms dahil sa maliit lamang na kita. Ang ino-offer nito ay may extra income sila habang nag-aani rin ng pananim sa kanilang farms,” he said.
Apart from helping provide work for the farmers, Yamang Bukid also gives importance to their families by ensuring that their children who are studying at the Bacungan National Elementary and High School are supported.
Anjan said each of the farmers’ children is receiving P20 daily allowance personally given to them by the accounting department of Yamang Bukid.
It may be small but it is enough motivation for them to value both education and money.
“Iyong mga bata, talagang masisipag pumasok araw-araw dahil sa pabaon sa kanila ng farm. Gusto nila matumbasan ng sipag at tiyaga sa pag-aaral iyong effort na binibigay sa kanila ni Yamang Bukid” he added.
The Agros Festival was also a day to give recognition to their 20 Best Employees of the Year in acknowledgment of their hard work and dedication to both the farm and the tourists who visit the Yamang Bukid daily.