Understanding My Role in Feeding the Planet

Thieza Clarito Verdijo
Miércoles, Octubre 21, 2015

This is the first blogpost from ILC's "We Feed the Planet" Series.  Youth from around the globe, including ILC members and staff, gathered in Milan from October 3rd to 6th to bring the voices of young farmers, fishers, producers and food professionals to Expo 2015. This is their story...

Cheerful shouts and loud banging of placards were heard across the global arena of the Expo Milano 2015 in Milan, Italy. I was one of the more than 2,000 young people from across the globe that marched and hollered together in one voice  "we feed the planet". Our main goal is to expose to the world the wonder, beauty and significance of agriculture, the food and its systems, and more importantly, the people behind it in our day-to-day existence.

The We Feed the Planet event was truly a remarkable gathering of people from all walks of life, who have come to talk, discuss, share significant experiences, learn, and explore how food, as one of human being's basic need for survival is produced, prepared, handled, and marketed. The overall advocacy of the event is to develop the mindset of having a genuine, slow and natural way of producing and preparing food as well as supporting locally grown products.

Backtrack... how I came to join this event? Well, I would like to call it fate rather than by chance. For most of my young professional career, I have been engaged with agriculture, rural farming, and indigenous communities in Mindanao, Philippines. As a Development Communication graduate under the College of Agriculture of Xavier University, I was trained to develop and use communication tools that translate agricultural practices, technology and innovations for local farmer's appreciation and better understanding. My passion for development work was reinforced when I started doing volunteer work in various tribal groups of Muslim, Christian and Indigenous communities. Through the years, I climbed mountains and trails, came face-to-face with leaders and commanders of Moro rebel groups wherein many young women my age dare not do. It is difficult, dangerous and challenging but I still do it. When the opportunity for this event came, my superior recommended me to participate, perhaps he saw the value of my work, and with that I am grateful.

Throughout the years of working and interacting with rural communities, I have come to realise that the main challenge for them is land, along with their fight for right to self-determination. Issues on land acquisitions, tenure and ownership transcend boundaries, ethnicities and culture. Some may have parcels and hectare of lands but farming and agricultural inputs, even access to common service facilities remain a challenge to rural farmers. Some may also have abundant produce but market value and opportunities are scarce and deprived. All these are challenges faced by farmers not just in my country but in the many developing countries of the world. Overlapping land claims and even policies, laws and jurisdictions of various government agencies contribute to this ever dynamic and evolving issue. Cases of land grabbing, extra-judicial killings of tribal leaders and what-not are deeply rooted in the claims for land ownership. In this fast-changing and dynamic generation, education through trainings and capacity building on new farming techniques, innovations and technologies, also acknowledging Indigenous knowledge systems are needed to better equip local farmers.

Fast forward...the Terra Madre Youth event provided an avenue for people to exchange learning, experiences and practices. The challenges, difficulties of individuals in farming and agriculture shared has to be replicated, modified and adapted in our own countries. The issues are all the same, but some have overcome them while others are still struggling to fight off disparity.

For me, participating in this kind of international exchange opened up new opportunities, I gained new friendships and helped me to develop new goals in my career as a development worker and as a person. Perhaps, the most striking feature of the entire event was the idea of making "our" voices heard especially of the youth. Truly, there is strength in numbers. It goes to show that more and more people, young and old are engaged in making this world a better place where food is safe, clean, and fair. Each one has a role to play, a part to do in this whole scheme of things. We need to know and identify what that is, do what we must to achieve it and share it.

I have always dreamed of working in an international organization, and I know I could achieve that. But somehow, I am always pulled back to working with rural communities where I find serenity, inspiration and self-fulfilment.  I know deeply that I will continue to work with and for the rural, Indigenous communities in Mindanao and the Philippines. I believe that this country still has a lot of potential, that while many would say it has been left behind by many of its contemporaries in terms of development, however, I think it just lay dormant and soon it will rise again. I am hopeful.

What I am doing for my country, as a development worker in Mindanao is only the tip of the iceberg, an icing on the cake. There's more to do, and more people needed to come together and effect change. As a communicator, I am more challenged to inspire others of what transpired in Terra Madre and to replicate it. My guiding personal principle is work, serve and sacrifice, while keeping the mindset of being the "change" I want to be.