Kawayan: Lahi at Yaman Natin sa Kalikasan at Kaunlaran
The First National Conference on Bamboo: Iloilo, Panay, Philippines, 1 - 3 August 1996
Bamboo for Sustainable Community Development: Milo G. Clark, managing director, Strategic Design, Berkeley CA USA
Last year at the International Bamboo Congress on Bali, I met Emeline Navera who told me of the great potential for bamboo to become a more recognized factor in the Philippine economy. I was thrilled to hear her ideas.
Therefore, I was very excited to receive an announcement for The First National Conference on Bamboo in the Philippines. Even more excited to see that it would be here in Iloilo, Panay.
What can a person of my background say that might have meaning for this audience?
I am a highly educated product of America's elite Eastern Establishment, a graduate of Harvard Business School and survivor of Big Business management and consulting.
Puzzled and concerned by much of what I experienced as an executive and consultant, I moved to orient my work to rural communities.
In 1978, I traveled slowly across the central Pacific spending time in Micronesia before coming to the Philippines. Jaime Ongpin, God rest his soul, was a classmate. We talked.
I rented a Volkswagen 1200 and drove slowly through Bataan remembering the radio broadcasts of battles and death marches. I recognized familiar names which I could now attach to places and faces. I went up the coast to Lingayan Gulf where I stayed at a beachside thatched cottage.
I walked the beaches. I saw the numerous hotels and resorts destroyed by typhoons.
A large group of men were working a big net spread far out over the water. It took hours to bring it in. They worked very hard. Women appeared with baskets. Children followed them. There were very few fish in that net. The disappointment showed in their eyes.
I drove further north. In the evenings, people laid rice out on the road for drying. They sat around fires beside the road. Going inland, the road gave out. I took a ferry and forded streams until there was no more track even for the Volkswagen. At the very last village I could reach, a procession came out to meet me. They called me, "paadair". The car was very exciting. Everyone wanted a ride. I drove delegations up and down, up and down. We had an excellent time. I should have stayed longer.
Some days later, back in Manila, Jaime told me I had been in guerilla country where the Huks were. He said I was lucky to escape with my life. I knew something about the Huks.
I thought about Jose Rizal. I didn't believe Jaime.
And that may be why I am excited to be here at the First National Conference on Bamboo in Iloilo City.
I am asked to talk about "Bamboo for Sustainable Community Development."
What I saw along the Lingayan Gulf and inland in Jaime's version of Guerilla Country were two significant aspects of what once may have been sustainable community development. The empty net at the seashore spoke eloquently of failures. The fish were gone.
The proud villagers of the interior, largely cut off from western ideas of development, at least at that time, represented something else. Theirs was a sustainable community in their terms.
I won't pretend to know what sustainable community development is. I do know that each community has to find its own definitions.
Nevertheless, I have spent the years since 1978 trying to learn, to understand and, perhaps, to begin to practice sustainable development at community levels.
There are as many versions and visions of sustainable development as there are insects in my gardens. In the gardens, we have worked out an understanding. Most of those bugs are friends with whom I am willing to share. Yet, some bugs want too much. We don't get along very well.
Bamboo is unique in the plant worlds. In terms of the benefits and utilities bamboo offers, it is truly more than just a plant.
Bamboo is one of my best friends. Where there is bamboo, I am content. We have about fifty different kinds of bamboos in our gardens. I would have more.
Bamboo is a great resource which we of the western world have largely ignored after destroying what little we had. Partly in response to the pervasiveness of western ideas in this part of the world, bamboo is looked down upon by too many people. Bamboo is said to be something only for poor people.
How arrogant! How insensitive! How destructive!
Bamboo is here. Its substitutes are somewhere else and brought here at great expense.
Those ideas from the West are like the bugs in my garden who want too much. The practices brought from the West, whether Spanish, German, American, Japanese or hybrids, like the seeds of the Green Revolution, destroy community, ruin sustainable anything.
Those ideas and the practices and methods which come along with them create dependency. Dependency on imported machinery. Dependency on markets outside. Dependency on fossil fuels from outside or from within the land.
Dependency on chemicals, fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides, processing plants, packaging, plastics all from outside.
All requiring money, cash money, finance money, debt money which saps community vitality.
The surplus from community work is taken from the community.
The fish are scooped up and taken away.
The forest is cut down and taken away.
What is left for the community?
The West doesn't know bamboo.
Maybe that is a blessing.
Should we tell them about bamboo?
That is a question.
I have some simple minded thoughts which we might discuss.
First, I know that community underlies economy. Without community as foundation, economy is exploitation.
Secondly, I know that community is based on people of the community doing work that is meaningful to them in their terms. I've learned that I must ask them what their terms are.
Thirdly, Although there are exceptions, I know that meaningful work usually does not mean work for hire, employment for wages, dependence on a cash economy.
Fourthly, I know that economic activity of any sort is founded in conversion of resources. Somewhere in the economic chains leading from resource to post-service economies, resources must be identified and converted to useful products meeting consumer needs at some level in the complex matrices of need and greed.
Fifthly, I know that whenever the surpluses created by conversion of local resources into products for export are taken from the community, community suffers.
And now, I urge you to pause, to think very carefully about your children's futures.
I urge you to put community first.
I urge you to convert bamboo into products in ways which support community and people.
I urge that local people convert bamboo resources first for local uses in the community.
I urge you to accumulate the economic surpluses from these conversions and to reinvest them in your communities.
I urge you to keep the fruits of your labor and of your investments at home.
Local resources converted by local people for local uses in ways that create surplus for local reinvestment.
This is the rosary, the mantra, the prayer of sustainable community development.
From your stable, strengthened communities, reach out cautiously and carefully to explore larger markets if you must.
Those are things I know. We can talk about them. I want to know what you think and what you do. I am here primarily to learn from you.
In that process, I can share with you numerous ideas about growing bamboo for export. I have ideas about developing bamboo products suitable for western markets. I can help gaining access to western markets. I can carry your messages to bamboo enthusiasts in America and, through our internet connections, to Europe.
Lastly, I want to honor the people along the beach in Lingayan Gulf and the village people I met in the central mountains of Luzon. I feel a special obligation to increase the fish available to them and to protect the forests that we have left.
Now, let's talk together.
Prepared for The First National Conference on Bamboo Iloilo, Panay, Philippines 1 - 3 August 1996.