Finally, back in the Philippines!
We were all nervous before the journey; Do we have all the necessary paperwork and online registrations? There might be entirely new requirements; best we check everything once more. The Philippines has had arguably the most stringent COVID-19 restrictions worldwide, with face masks still mandatory indoors and outdoors, which wasn’t a pleasant feeling when the temperature reached over 30 degrees and humidity over 95%.
Upon landing in the familiar Davao City, our van hit the road to the Davao de Oro province and its capital of Nabunturan, where the Narra team met with heads of municipal tourist and agriculture offices to explore areas for potential collaboration, e.g farmer trainings. Our next stop was a coconut sugar processing facility operated by Narra’s business partner, Sunrise company in Barangay Libasan. It was enjoyable to find a shelter under coconut palms in the scorching midday heat and refresh ourselves with fresh coconut sap collected from the palm. This coconut sap is collected four times a day by ‘tappers’, with each palm producing 2 liters of sap. Although the palms on the farm are dwarf coconuts, and it doesn’t take more than a few seconds for tappers to get into the tree crown. One tapper handles on average 30 trees, and so does 120 climbs in a day.
After leaving the farm, we visited the facility where the coconut sap is processed into sugar. Besides coconut syrup and sugar, the facility also produces coconut aminos, which is a wonderful alternative to not-so-healthy soya sauce.
From Nabunturan we set south and ascended towards the Maragusan mountains, where the landscape changed dramatically and was transformed into dense rainforest, deep valleys, and fast-flowing rivers. In less than two hours' drive from Libasan, we arrived at Marayag village, where Narra’s cacao demonstration farm is located. The farm area is part of an ancestral domain under the guardianship of the Mandaya tribe. The Mandaya, which means “inhabitants of the uplands,” have one of the richest cultural heritage among Filipino ethnic groups.
We were so pleased to see labourers loading a truck with cacao pods when we arrived, considering that 18 months ago, there were almost no pods to harvest as the farm had been abandoned prior to Narra taking over the management of the farm. After refreshing ourselves with buko – fresh coconut water, we walked through the farm and assessed the work being done. “Viper, viper, one of the workers shouted. “ It seemed like we interrupted this beautiful green viper during its late afternoon siesta on cacao tree. It was probably also for us time to go as it gets dark very quickly in the tropics, and we still had to drive down to our accommodation in Mati.