Revitalizing the Tengba: Healthy landscapes, nutritious food and indigenous wisdom
Revitalizing Indigenous food systems among the Kankanaey people of Besao for healthy families, sustainable landscapes, cultural heritage
Revitalizing Indigenous food systems among the Kankanaey people of Besao for healthy families, sustainable landscapes, cultural heritage
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Partners for Indigenous Knowledge Philippines (PIKP)
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small NGO (under 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
Indigenous People’s Community Organization: Batil-ang Pey-peyan Clan (BPC)
Research Institution: Philippine Task Force for Indigenous Peoples Rights (TFIP)
International Network: Centers of Distinction – Indigenous and Local Knowledge (COD-ILK)
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
Besao municipality (173.62 km^2) in Mountain Province, pilot site for our Vision covering the Cordillera Administrative Region (19,422 km^2)
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
Five of our team members are rooted in the Batil-ang Peypeyan Clan, one of the original families who settled in Besao more than seven generations back. It is their hometown and the wellspring of their indigenous values, traditional food and heirloom recipes.
Besao is an indigenous Kankanaey community where indigenous culture is still very much alive, although it is also experiencing rapid erosion. Though now living in Baguio City, Besao is the hometown to keep alive indigenous culture, renew ties with family and community, and commune with ancestors and with nature.
For the Besao people, Besao is the 'ili', a word that means much more than the place. It includes not only the rivers, the mountains, the rice fields, the forests and resources; but also the people’s identity and collectivity to which they belong. Integral to the 'ili' are the values of collective community welfare and sustainable resource management engendered by the ancestors and continue to be practiced today.
The 'ili' is ancestral land to be safeguarded. Our forebears defended it and nurtured it through generations. It is the 'umili’s' (people’s) responsibility to protect and nurture this natural and cultural heritage to be passed on to future generations. It is believed that if the land and the 'ili' are in danger, every one belonging to the 'ili' are is obliged to act. Thus, we feel obliged to respond, as the 'ili' faces many challenges and threats to its continued survival. Besao was selected because it stands for the 'ili' and our indigenous heritage that must be protected, strengthened and promoted.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
The municipality of Besao at the foot of Mt. Mogao, a mountain considered sacred by the local community and a major source of water for the area.
An aerial view of Besao, Mountain Province
Besao is located in the northern region of the Philippines
Indigenous Kankanaey families grow rice on terraced paddy fields
Besao is a mountainous municipality where farming is done on mountain slopes.
Local women prepare vegetables for a community gathering
Women prepare linnapet, a sticky rice cake with peanuts wrapped in banana leaf
Linnapet, sticky rice and peanuts wrapped in banana leaf
Tengba, a fermented paste made of rice and crabs
In the past, the people of Agawa, Besao tracked time with a stone calendar. The start of a new year was celebrated when the sun rested perfectly on top of a rock called Ambaon-bato as seen from Dap-ay Awaw at sunrise. This signaled that it was once again the season to sow the rice grains. Careful observation marked this event happening every September 30. This day has come to be known as the Feast of 'Linnapet' (sticky rice and peanuts wrapped in banana leaf), a day to prepare this indigenous rice cake and to share it with relatives, neighbors and friends. It is a yearly ritual of sharing and of strengthening community ties. Because many now live outside Besao, this practice of sharing 'linnapet' is observed in many places around the world where Agawa folks gather to celebrate the Feast of 'Linnapet.'
Besao is a mountainous municipality where the indigenous Kankanaey families grow rice on terraced paddy fields and do swidden farming on mountain slopes. They plant sweet potato, corn, legumes, squash, peanut, bananas, avocado, citrus, coffee, cassava, pechay and sayote for consumption. Pigs and chickens are raised in backyards for added income and for traditional rituals. There are two pronounced seasons, wet season from May to December and dry season from January through April.
Traditional culture remains strong alongside introduced colonial and modern institutions. Even while the municipality operates as part of the national government structure, the indigenous 'dap-ay' (traditional governance system led by male elders; an indigenous institution that looks after the collective welfare of its members through collective decision-making by consensus) continues to hold sway over the people. Here, elders collectively decide on agriculture, natural resource management, rituals, and conflict resolution. Cooperative labor for the well-being of the whole community is still practiced.
The food that people commonly eat are those grown by themselves in their fields and gardens or gathered from the forest (mushrooms, berries) and rivers (fish, shrimp, crabs). These are simply cooked with minimal use of condiments. Vegetables and rice are the common daily fare, while meat is eaten when animals are butchered in the performance of rituals. They have rice cakes, smoked meats, rice wine, and 'tengba,' a fermented paste made of rice and crabs. However, growing in popularity are commercial processed foods. The nature and impacts of this food and nutrition transition on the land and people needs monitoring and study to inform appropriate community action on this growing problem.
As articulated in their barangay development plans, the people hope to strengthen the 'Inayan' (a system of taboos which teaches what is right and wrong) culture, which teaches respect for people, the land, and the unseen. They also wish to institutionalize traditional amicable settlement procedures and customary laws, revitalize cultural support systems like community cooperation and exchange labor.
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Serious challenges threaten the traditional food system and food sovereignty.
Environment: Ecosystem resilience is threatened as significant land use changes are introduced. Agricultural biodiversity is eroding as commercial production of temperate vegetables is increasing and encroaching into the forests. There is loss of indigenous rice varieties with the introduction high-yielding varieties. With a growing population, there is increased tree cutting in forests for house construction, furniture and fuel.
Increased gold mining activities destroy the landscape, pollute the rivers and displace traditional livelihoods. Large-scale mining by Cordillera Exploration Co. Inc. (CEXCI) is threatening to come into the area.
Economics: Mountain Province had a poverty incidence of 24.4% in 2018. Aside from production for subsistence, they now engage more and more in commercial agriculture, small-scale mining, odd jobs for cash. Farmers now use commercial agro-chemical fertilizers to increase production.
Diets: The people face a food transition – from traditional diets to introduced and processed foods. There is growing taste for purchased food rather than the locally grown food, resulting in the rise of new diseases, like diabetes and cardio-vascular diseases.
Culture: Indigenous culture is rapidly eroding. Values that ensure community well-being are steadily weakening. Cooking of traditional foods is losing its importance. Schools do not teach the traditional foods but other dishes like spaghetti and cake. Many youth prefer to leave the community to study and seek employment elsewhere.
Technology: Cordillera rice agriculture is world-renowned for its ingenious irrigated terraces. Traditional rice varieties are products of the continuous selection and breeding by farmers over centuries, and are valued for their resistance to pests and diseases and low fertilizer requirements. Family farmers using simple agricultural hand tools and labor intensive methods have evolved highly diverse and productive agro-forestry systems which use green composting, crop rotation and fallow periods.
Cordillera rivers have been dammed to supply energy to the national grid but 20% of sitios in the region still remains unelectrified. There is poor access to internet. Technologies used in agriculture, communications and local industry are in need of innovation and enhancement.
Policy: Government has promoted high input commercial vegetable and fruit production for the cities, to the neglect of local natural diets and indigenous farming systems. There is a need to increase government support for family farming and food production innovations, not just for subsistence but also as a source of cash and new livelihoods.
An agroecological vision, building on revitalized local indigenous food systems is needed to transform the Cordillera into a prosperous center of natural and cultural heritage, including diverse indigenous food systems and food cultures.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Local initiatives to pursue the vision of self-determined sustainable development and food sovereignty must be supported.
Environment – Conduct in-depth community participatory research on the state of biodiversity, production landscape, natural resources, indigenous knowledge and ecological practices and food systems. Develop a comprehensive environmental protection plan together with the community.
Economics – Strengthen subsistence production in family farms and further develop production and diversification of selected indigenous crops and food products for the market. Increase production and improve quality of crops and food products and develop innovative processing, packaging and marketing so that they represent and educate the public about the indigenous food systems in the area. Involve the youth and let them define their role in the whole process of food production.
Technology – Link local producers to the market. Save indigenous seeds from extinction by keeping seed banks (in-situ and ex-situ). Develop ecological, appropriate, community-based technology to aid in food production such as hand tractors, harvester, thresher, coffee pulper, solar dryer. Develop solar energy for community use.
Culture – Strengthen indigenous values related to diverse foods, subsistence, environmental protection, biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation, sustainable resource management, and family farming. Promote local values and systems of traditional agriculture, water conservation and management, forest management and indigenous systems of community cooperation. Strengthen and institutionalize inter-generational knowledge transmission: the elders impart knowledge and skills to the youth, and vice versa - the youth impart knowledge from science, law, new technologies and social enterprise to the older generations. Strengthen the dap-ay institution of local governance and the role of the elders and women in the pursuit of the community’s vision of self-determined development.
Policy – Regulate small-scale mining and prevent entry of destructive large-scale corporate mining. Promote community-based renewable energy such as solar and micro-hydro systems. Advocate for local government to develop policies to revitalize traditional food systems and products, and to support livelihood opportunities for youth. Advocate for the promotion and teaching of agroecology, indigenous food systems and heirloom recipes by working with schools, media and food establishments.
Diet – Organize community food workshops to learn, document, teach and taste traditional food systems and recipes. Define a road map for transition from the current industrial food systems towards greater promotion of traditional food heritage. Work with schools to teach nutritious diets and indigenous food values. Document and publish more heirloom recipes of the Cordillera for adoption by hotels, restaurants and other food outlets. Promote local food products recipes through multi-media.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
Besao is established as an Indigenous Food Heritage Center of Distinction.
The people collectively manage a healthy landscape and sustainable food system where family farmers produce a diversity of food crops, and practice indigenous values of cooperation and care for the environment for the promotion of traditional food and nutritious diets in the community, in the Cordillera region and beyond.
The purpose of this vision is to help ensure that food for sustainable and healthy diets is available, affordable, acceptable, safe, and of adequate quantity and quality while conforming with beliefs, culture and traditions, dietary habits, and preferences of individuals, in accordance with national and international laws.
The revitalized indigenous food heritage of Besao shall serve as a pilot model for other communities in the Cordillera region. It will build upon indigenous values, practices and local resources in order to forestall the steady degradation of the environment, the decreasing production of nutritious traditional food, and the declining health of the people.
Indigenous peoples' self-determined development puts indigenous peoples’ rights in the center of development and ensures protection and management of natural resources, support for traditional livelihoods, respect for cultural diversity and recognition of the vital role of indigenous elders, women and youth.
Sustainability – The land and its resources are managed well for the present generation and for generations to come. Food is produced to supply the needs of families and local communities for their sustenance, nutrition and health.
Indigenous wisdom is a valuable body of knowledge which teaches biodiversity conservation, and regenerative and nourishing food. Indigenous peoples are dependent on healthy ecosystems for their survival. They have protected the land and resources for generations, which is why their territories support a wealth of biological and cultural diversity.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
An illustration of the vision realized.
Revitalizing Tengba: Healthy landscapes, nutritious food and indigenous values
'Tengba' is a fermented mixture of freshwater crabs and pounded rice, slowly aged to produce a savory paste that can flavor vegetables and soups. In the past, tengba was served for many meals and helped people cope with lack of food during hard times. When a first child is born, tengba is brought out, and a meal is prepared for visiting older mothers who give their support and advise to the young mother. The tengba itself offers the needed nutrition for the nursing mother and promotes milk production.
The quality of the tengba is greatly determined by the crabs. In the past, it was said that the best tengba used crabs from the Balas-iyan river. However, when the river got polluted by mining in the vicinity, the production of tengba was affected because it was difficult to find a source of good crabs.
Our food systems vision is the revitalization of tengba as a symbol of the indigenous food heritage of Besao. This is possible only by maintaining a healthy landscape and by keeping the indigenous wisdom alive.
Diet: healthy, nutritious, safe, zero waste, heritage food
The diet shows the strong connection of people to the land and nature. Ingredients are diverse and come from the bounty of the land and the waters. Heirloom rice is the staple food, supplemented with root crops like sweet potato and taro, and eaten with locally grown seasonal plants. From the waters are gathered snails, fish, crabs. Meat is plentiful during community feasts and special occasions, when everyone present is given a share of the meat.
Besao food heritage has earned distinction nationally and globally as an outstanding heritage cuisine which is age-old, healthy, natural, safe and sustainable.
Culture: rooted in the land, belonging to community, respectful of the unseen
The people were able to overcome challenges from three decades ago which led to the rapid loss of their indigenous knowledge. This trend was turned around with pro-active documentation and research on indigenous knowledge with focus on the food heritage. Data gathered were kept in a community databank, and served as basis for integration of indigenous knowledge (IK) into the school curriculum. Students learned IK in their everyday lessons at school. After that massive community effort, the young people are now well-versed in their own culture, they are proud of their identity and are a reliable force in community development. At an early age, children learn about their indigenous territory and participate in food production and gathering in the rice fields, forests and waters.
As a result, the indigenous culture is thriving. Indigenous institutions like the dap-ay manage their sustainable self-determined development. Elders, youth, women, families and clans actively contribute their labor, knowledge and skills. Community cooperation is high in the tradition of the 'og-ogbo' and 'binnadang.' Rituals continue to be performed to ask for the blessings and guidance of the unseen spirits and for community solidarity and well-being. Linnapet day is an annual event which gathers people from far and wide to celebrate Besao food heritage.
Besao Food Heritage School (BFHS) was established to ensure that the indigenous knowledge on food is passed on to future generations. It is accredited by the Mountain Province State Polythecnic College (MPSPC) and the University of the Philippines Baguio as a field school for students majoring in Indigenous Studies. This includes courses on traditional rice production, home gardens, forest management, water management, heirloom recipes, food preservation. It also has courses on the development of new food products and on the use of new technologies such as aquaponics, use of small agricultural machines. The first batch of graduates of this school are now leading the ongoing operations and development of the Besao Food Heritage Center (BFHC).
Environment: living in harmony with the land and nature
There is increased agricultural biodiversity. Indigenous crops and plant varieties have been recovered. New improved breeds of rice and other crops are developed by farmers through selection and cross breeding.
The waters of Besao are now protected with the strict implementation of local ordinances and custom law that prohibit any activity that pollutes the waters. The waters are constantly monitored by caretakers who are assigned by the community. Stiff penalties are imposed on those who violate this policy. The quality of water in Balas-iyan river has greatly improved resulting in the increase in riverine life, including the crabs needed to produce tengba. Ecological agriculture practiced in rice paddies has led to the regeneration of snails and fish gathered from the rice paddies.
The traditional rice production system has been revitalized. Heirloom seeds are planted, and production is organic with no use of chemical inputs. Rice intensification technologies are used to raise productivity.
The previously widespread practice of cutting of trees for firewood is no longer done with the installation of solar energy and the strengthening of the 'batangan' indigenous forest management system. This has resulted in the steady regrowth and regeneration of the forest as a source of food from wildlife and plants.
Economics – sustainable, viable, appropriate in scale, regulated
Besao has come to be known far and wide as a Food Heritage Center of Distinction. Premium food products include tengba, a collection of traditional rice varieties, wines, smoked meat, etc. Young chefs and local food experts have developed new products that use local ingredients, Each of these products pass through a process for community approval and then receive a seal that guarantees the quality and authenticity of the food.
Production is a home-based cottage industry, closely supervised and managed by the community cooperative. Tengba now has a steady supply of ingredients needed: fresh water crabs and heirloom rice. Large jars of tengba are produced by most households, for their own consumption and for the market, which is packaged and sold by the BFHC.
Besao Heritage Food Center is where the people bring surplus food products for checking, quality control, packaging and labeling. Cooking lessons are conducted. The Center houses a restaurant that serves freshly cooked Besao food, straight from the farm, forest, river, paddy to pre-booked visitors. Young people are involved, developing new products, promotions and marketing, kitchen and service staff.
A steady market is the neighboring municipality of Sagada, a well-established tourist destination, Baguio city and online. Marketing is managed by the BFHC, with an extensive network of Besao people in the diaspora. Profits go back to the producers and the community through the BFHC cooperative.
Yearly Linnapet Day showcases local foods, and are occasions to invite people to come and partake of the bounty of the land and waters. These community events continue to grow every year. Tourism is regulated to be sustainable and is community managed. Guests need to pre-book their visits to make sure that it does not disrupt community life and agricultural production.
Technology: sustainable, ecological, appropriate, people centered
Age-old techniques including sundrying, air-drying, smoking, salt-curing and fermenting are practiced to preserve the surplus food. New technologies and innovations make available new food products and wider marketing and distribution.
Aquaponics is used to produce a steady supply of crabs for commercial production of tengba; and vegetables for the increased demand for Besao food heritage products. Heirloom seed varieties are saved and kept in the Community Seed Bank and are replanted continuously; shared and exchanged with neighbors to enhance local varieties and biodiversity.
A digital Indigenous Knowledge database is maintained and managed by the community. Information and communications technologies are used for efficient and fast communication to the outside world. Solar energy, is used at the food center and in households.
Zero waste policy where all discards are brought back to the land. Packaging makes use of traditional materials like banana leaves, and also recyclable jars and metal cans. There is a cottage industry of handmade paper using fibers from the fields and forests, used for labels and packaging. Local writers and artists document and write stories for food product literature and create designs.
Policy: safeguard our heritage, keep the wisdom alive
Advocacy was done for the adoption of laws, policies and programs to conserve biodiversity, secure land tenure and to respect indigenous and local knowledge. This was done with the local government units, national government like the National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plan (NBSAPS), and global policy processes including the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) and the Inter-governmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Education resources, cultural forms and multi-media platforms were employed to raise public awareness on biological and cultural diversity and local food systems among indigenous peoples, decision-makers, civil society, academe and the scientific community.
The post 2020 Biodiversity Strategy envisioned a world of humanity living in harmony with nature by 2050. During this transition, indigenous peoples played vital roles, both in the renewal of their own societies and contributing to this global vision, as well as being living exemplars of collective values, knowledge, innovations and practices which are addressing contemporary problems. These actions by indigenous elders, women, youth and children are vital contributions to 21st century transformation.
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