Bulalayao IA: A parent to livelihood groups in Kalinga

Service areas of the Bullalayao IA which total to 45.6 hectares are patches of farmlands forming rice terraces found along the Western Kalinga-Abra Road enveloped by the towering mountains of the Cordilleras.

Tribal unity has been a choice as tradition by the Bullalayao Irrigators’ Association of Brgy. Pantikian in Balbalan, Kalinga, one of the places with the lowest crime rate in the province. The organization is composed of 50 members from Sitio Bullalayao, Palpalnus, Gunas and Pantikian Proper who belong to the Banao sub-tribe, one of the 31 sub-tribes of the ethnolinguistic cluster of Kalinga.

Angkas and Early beginnings

According to the members, this tribal unity stemmed from their indigenous tradition called ‘angkas’, their local term for bayanihan which were bequeathed by their elders. The ‘angkas’ practice involved contribution of each household of the community of at least two bundles of palay as annual dues for safekeeping in the communal ‘agamang’ or rice granary which were to be used during crisis and calamities. If ten bundles of palay were loaned for use during mass labor for repair of the old irrigation system, these had to be returned in twelve bundles to include interest, or in some cases such as dry spell an equivalent pig.

However, the early stages of starting the organization which was to be legally registered had not been an easy endeavor. Brgy. Captain Rosito Borreta still remembered how distrustful most farmers had been in 2011 when he was asking for farm areas from would-be beneficiaries of the proposed irrigation system. They thought that divulging their information would increase their taxes due to the government. Still, with only ten initial members, the Bullalayao IA was formed and became the first organization of the barangay to be legally registered.

The Take Off and Women Involvement

When the first irrigation system, Pantikian Communal Irrigation System (CIS), was finally completed with a project cost of P2.363 million, more members joined. In 2013, more funds were granted to improve other irrigation systems within the service area of the Bullalayao IA, i.e., Booc CIS, Palsang CIS, Palpalnus CIS and Gunas CIS, all of which had a total allocation of P2.565 million.

With the concreting and improvement of their earth canals, intake and other irrigation facilities, the Bullalayao IA became active and an asset of the barangay. They continued their modern day ‘angkas’ in the operation and maintenance of their irrigation systems.

Women involvement is also very evident in the organization, with 27 women members and 23 men. Eliza Togna said that women participation is embedded in their culture—making decisions, and as part of labor force. Brgy. Captain Borreta shared that women participation in the repair and restoration activities of their CIS increased when the canals and facilities were concreted and improved which aided women and men members for a more convenient maintenance of their irrigation system.

Micro hydropower management

The improvement of the intake of the irrigation system also helped improve the efficiency of the existing small hydropower of the community which was built together with the Department of Energy. Because of the association’s united front, the hydropower plant whose intake was also improved by the Palpalnus CIS in 2013 was turned over to the Bullayao IA for operation and maintenance. It became the IA’s responsibility, among others, to collect fees from the electric users.

For about some years now, the Bullalayao Micro Hydropower Plant is the only energy source of the barangay as the mainline from the KAELCO was previously damaged by typhoons.

Coffee Production and Other Endeavors

The farmer organization’s spark spread and was soon recognized by the other agencies. When the DENR’s INREMP was launched in the area, the Bullalayao IA’s active involvement in community activities shined which prompted the IA in becoming a partner of DENR in tree planting activities. With the area being suitable for coffee, this is the main seedling planted.

The DTI also saw the great potential of the IA and introduced coffee production to the farmers, which would form another organization devoted to Balbalan coffee production and which would later be recognized as one of the top producers of high-grade Arabica coffee during the National Coffee Summit held in Davao City.

Because some coffee trees had been in existence in the barangay, old branches are cut to encourage saguibo. With the help of the training from the DOST trainers for the farmers, these cut coffee branches were crafted and carved into chairs, holders, key chains and other souvenirs sold to tourists and visitors.

More opportunities and grants were endowed to the community and the IA. These include livelihood programs, tools and machineries from the Kalinga- Apayao State College (KASC), Department of Agriculture and local government units.

Bullalayao IA as mother organization

While opportunities as well as responsibilities of the Bullalayao IA have grown over the years, the organization’s commitment to irrigation is still intact. While other organizations have stemmed from what the members call as “mother organization” that is Bullalayao IA, the farmers’ loyalty and dedication to their organization have become stronger. For more than eight years of existence since the IA’s birth in 2012, their tribal unity is continually evident in their operation and maintenance of their irrigation system.

According to Florencio Beleno, president of the IA, their need for irrigation water at the right time and at the right area is crucial. Recent calamities left damages to their irrigation system but they are armed with their long standing ‘angkas’. While other groups would wait for funding from government for the restoration, Beleno said they could not dare leave areas unirrigated. Bullalayao IA members take out cash from their organization’s fund or from their own pocket and voluntarily work in mass labor to restore the irrigation system even if repair works needed concreting.

Members of the Outstanding Bullalayao Irrigators’ Association of Brgy. Pantikian, Balbalan, Kalinga show the active involvement of both men and women in irrigation activities.

Outstanding IA Award

In 2020, during the validation of NIA-CAR of all Irrigators’ Association in the region, Bullalayao IA ranked highest. This led to its being the 2019 Most Outstanding Irrigators’ Association in CAR under the CIS category, besting all more than 1,000 IAs regionwide.

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Time-tested tribal unity, productivity and sustainability of this farmers’ group in Western Kalinga are packaged to stand out in a place with history of discord, and in a challenging time such as this pandemic, Bullalayao IA proves that a farmer-irrigators’ community is food-sufficient and self-reliant.

Photo Caption 1: Service areas of the Bullalayao IA which total to 45.6 hectares are patches of farmlands forming rice terraces found along the Western Kalinga-Abra Road enveloped by the towering mountains of the Cordilleras.
Photo Caption 2: Members of the Outstanding Bullalayao Irrigators’ Association of Brgy. Pantikian, Balbalan, Kalinga show the active involvement of both men and women in irrigation activities.