I thought it would be easier to do it. But it proved to be very difficult, because of trust issues. The climate and agriculture issue is high on the public agenda… and it's very complex.
Joan Jamisolamin, Fork to Farm Local Dialogue Facilitator
The Fork to Farm Dialogue in the Philippines took place in August 2021 and was coordinated and facilitated by the Community Facilitators of Samdhana Institute, a group of activists and practitioners working alongside Indigenous people and local communities to achieve social and environmental justice in Southeast Asia.
The Samdhana team decided to hold the dialogue with 11 communities in different parts of the country for whom food production is a part of daily life. All of these communities depend on forests and farming for subsistence, except for those in the Calamian Tagbanwa region who are sea-faring. These communities were chosen as they “still strongly lean into the traditional system” and Samdhana saw the dialogue as an “opportunity to share the stories that are not yet told.”
With many partners spread across the country, and with COVID-19 social-distancing restrictions, they decided to hold the dialogue online. The dialogue was an opportunity for “many partners to speak, to share. So the idea was to launch it big, have national participation.” The online platform was an opportunity to “bring stories together, to bring the participants from different groups and organisations together.”
The group decided to record videos with the communities:
“People are less engaged in online discussions. We thought that the approach to storytelling through video would work and it would also lessen the risk of technical problems.”
One piece of advice:
“Set up your programme to have more interaction. Have some structure but also let the conversation flow with what people bring up. We loved picking up significant points from participants that came out to bend or steer the conversation or steer the conversation like challenging the distinction between producers and consumers. Put time into conscious facilitation and design.” The Samdhana team also reflected that including practitioners of large-scale agriculture “would have been a good opportunity to compare and contrast different systems.”
To create video content, the team felt that having information about communities’ food systems within the broader context was crucial, as many people have “never engaged or known about the issues Indigenous people face in terms of land ownership… if participants see the story of a community reviving their local practices through agroecology, without the context of what this community has been through, struggling for the last few years to literally reclaim the land, and facing off with armed people who don’t recognize their rights… without the context they won’t fully appreciate what the story means.”
This prompted the Samdhana team to challenge their own thinking. “We always thought that communities would not want to have their stories captured on video or shared, but in fact, they were quite proud, and they were quite excited to see themselves and I think that it had a positive impact on the young Indigenous peoples because the videos we created are on popular media, but it's about them, something that they relate to, not something that we have to aspire to be different from. There are very few stories on mainstream media that are about themselves.” For the Samdhana team, creating this more diverse representation was one of the best parts of the dialogue.
To run the dialogue, the group had three themed sessions to which relevant local authorities were invited. The videos were screened at the beginning of the session, followed by a conversation. The first session was on agroecology and food production to which they invited the director from the Department of Agriculture. The second was on traditional food preparation and officers from the Department of Science and Technology focusing on nutrition and research were invited. The conversations were structured so as to allow attendees to ask questions of a panel of invited government and community representatives.
After the second session, the Samdhana team were looking to increase interaction among the communities so they decided to “not invite anybody from any institution or government agency as panellists, so community participants could have more exchanges instead of listening to speakers.” The third session focused on land rights and food security in the context of COVID-19.
The sessions were attended by the communities represented in the videos. In addition to government representatives, other participants included schools, partner NGOs, young people from indigenous communities and interested members of the public.
A particular concern raised by the communities across the sessions was the question of “how they can share their knowledge with the next generation when many of the older members of the community do not have this knowledge anymore, the practice is disappearing and there is a higher risk that the knowledge will also disappear.”
The dialogues helped form relationships between the food producing communities in the Philippines: “some community members said that it was their first time to discover that we as a tribe in Mindanao, have similar food, or the same food practice with another tribe somewhere else… the community members took pride in those things that they were able to identify with in other tribes. Another common point was the invitation and opportunity for them to take stock of what natural resources and knowledge they have, and reflect on how they can protect this.” This relationship-building was also supported by “salo-salo”, or sharing a virtual lunch, at the end of each session. “Communities prepared their traditional foods and presented it to the rest of the audience. Communities sang, and participants kept their cameras on while eating, so that there was a virtual but simultaneous meal in our respective locations. And so there was a communal sense even if it was online.”
Overall, the Samdhana team found that the relationship-building aspect with local authorities was “not so significant” given the one-off conversation. The authorities who participated presented possible action points, but no clear commitments emerged during the dialogue.
There is more to learn and understand for all the partners, including how communities consent to research and documentation of their indigenous knowledge and practices; or how Indigenous groups can navigate government bureaucracy to access support. After each of the events the team sent a thank you letter to the representatives and expressed interest in a follow-up call. The Samdhana team thinks that for more meaningful relationships “it would require us to be more active in pursuing government partners.”
 (1) Serukadang Menuvu in Bukidnon, (2) AgroEco practitioner in Malitbog, Misami Oriental province, (3) Calamian Tagbanwa of Marabal, (4) Calamian Tagbanwa of Decawewe, (5) Dumagat tribe in Quezon province, (6) Apu Datu Mambalintos Bukidnon Tribe Association (ADMBTA) in Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon (7) Calamian Tagbanwa of Lamud, (8) Teduray in Maguindanao, (9) Bukidnon Tribe in Sto. Nino, Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon (10) Higaonon-Talaandig tribe in Baungon, Bukidnon and (11) Higaonon Tribe in Cagayan de Oro
 Episode 1: Food Production and Agroecology, Episode 2: Traditional Foods Preparation