Lessons can be learned from Aeta people's organic mangoes

Fair Trade is a boon for indigenous Philippine people and for those who consume the fruits of nature and their labor
Lessons can be learned from Aeta people's organic mangoes

Mango is the Philippines’ third biggest fruit export, after pineapple and banana. Although there are more than 200 mango varieties in the country, only four are widely distributed in the market, including the pico. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

My hands are sticky from sorting freshly harvested, organic fair trade mango grown by the indigenous Aeta people of Zambales and Bataan in the northern Philippines.

We were gathered in a group surrounded by crates of mangoes and working hands-on with the people and the Preda Fair Trade team to segregate over-ripe "pico" mangoes.

They are fair trade mangoes because Preda Fair Trade pays a much higher price to Aeta farmers than local traders do for their mangoes, if they buy them at all.

"Pico" is not a popular variety and a low-earning fruit, but Preda Fair Trade has found a buyer for organic "pico" puree with World Partners in Ravensburg, Germany.

This is a big benefit to the Aeta people. Otherwise, their mangoes would fall to the ground unsold and they earn nothing. Besides the higher price, the Aeta people get Preda Foundation development projects in their villages and educational assistance for some of their children in school.

The mangoes are delivered to our partners at the efficient processing plants of Weambard and Profood in Bulacan to be processed into mango puree or mash. This is sealed in aseptic bags and placed in steel drums. It will be exported to Germany and made into organic fair trade products to be sold to shops throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Buying the produce of the hard work of the poor for higher fair trade prices is one way to support them and reduce poverty. They struggle to survive in their remote villages without electricity, roads or nearby schools. There are few social services or government assistance to help them make a life of dignity for themselves and their children.

The organic fair trade mangoes are green and shiny and there are many this year. The farmers are elated and happy with a bumper harvest for "pico" mangoes this year due to the hot dry summer brought about by the El Nino weather phenomenon. Everything in nature is connected and interdependent on the planet.

Our food and fruit growing seasons are greatly dependent on this planetary travel and rotation of the earth as a balanced climate is vital for their well-being. The rise in global temperatures caused by man-made pollution and greenhouse gases is directly impacting the indigenous people before all others, it seems.

I can feel the heat as the thermometer reads 38 degrees centigrade. I sit and chat with the Aeta people. They speak Zambal and Ilocano but also Tagalog, which I speak and understand. They are a clever, wise and intelligent people speaking and understanding three languages.

We rest a while from sorting the mangoes and discuss the failure of the harvest for the past three years. The onslaught of untimely rainstorms that washed away the mango blossoms was a serious indication of unwelcome climate change.

These amazing indigenous people have survived for 30,000 years and endured much hardship. They live in the mountains close to nature and depend on a timely climate to regulate the growing of their crops. They know and feel the effects of global warming.

We must do all we can to hold global warming at 1.2 degrees centigrade. Thousands of children worldwide are campaigning to get governments to stop burning fossil fuels and turn to more renewable source of power generation.

The crops and mango fruits of the Aeta indigenous people are certified organic by international inspection bodies, including Naturland, that insist on the highest European Union organic standards. Some EU regulations for organic certification are made for Western crop growers who are rich, mobile and can easily meet the standards.

Over strictness and seeking perfection can reduce and turn away organic growing by many farmers and allow chemical farming to grow stronger supported by the chemical fertilizer corporations. Besides, it deprives customers of the healthy food they want and need. Chemical farming causes sickness and the health bill of developed economies is growing.

The Aetas, however, have survived for thousands of years on medicinal plants and eating only organic food. No processed meats or chemical-laced packaged food for them. Everything is natural and organic as that is their culture and lifestyle from time immemorial.

The recent strict inspection by an organic certification body challenged them to achieve the standard and qualify for organic certification as they have done for the past four years and will do so again this year.

There was no evidence of any chemicals, fertilizers, deadly pesticides, or blossom-inducer found in the pristine mountains that they are proud to call home and which they protect. Every year, we share 3,000 mango tree saplings for the Aeta to plant, a share from the sale of the mango puree.

Surplus earnings from sales are donated by Preda Fair Trade to support the victims of human trafficking. It helps the recovery and healing of victims of unfair, corrupt and evil trade in human beings, women and children.

The Preda home for abused children is supported by some of the proceeds of the Fair Trade sales. We would do well to learn from the indigenous Aeta people and eat only organic food, dried mango fruit and organic mango products and help the poor through Fair Trade. We must also do all we can to clean up our planet.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse.

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