Throughout June 2009, I traveled widely in Mindanao, the Philippines. I traveled first across parts of Northern Mindanao and, in a space of three hours, passed about 20 giant trucks stacked high with logs destined to the plywood mills or to the ships for export. It was shocking to see the forests being cut and shipped away. The rivers
I passed by were totally dried up. The land was shriveling; without trees there is no water, the sustenance of the land. No wonder there are so many hungry and malnourished people. Driving from Cagayan De Oro to Davao City in the south to visit Preda Projects, I was amazed to see the rain forests had almost disappeared, the last remnants clinging to the tops of the mountains. A beautiful country ravaged, exploited and left bare. The irresponsible loggers, tycoons and money moguls don’t care.
Working to make this a more just world through fair-trade projects and practices, empowering small farmers and changing unjust practices and systems is at the heart of Preda Fair-trade. Lobbying for new laws to protect the environment, promoting organic farming, and helping the victims of abuse and exploitation is the work Preda Fair-trade for the past 36 years in the Philippines. Preda Fair-trade encourages people to take more local action to combat climate change, destructive mining practices and environmental destruction.
It is encouraging to know that so many good people, unsung heroes, are working to inspire good and decent business people to practice corporate responsibility and are challenging corporations to do good and stop the damage being done to the people, their culture and the environment. Mining corporations are frequently the villains damaging the community. The government and business ought to protect the environment, not allow its destruction. They ought to be helping the poor, and sharing the wealth of the Philippines with the needy and never with the greedy.
To bring about social justice, they must pay fair wages, provide healthy working conditions and benefits, end the price fixing cartels and give small farmers access to markets. The NGOs need to work together for this change. It is by sharing our knowledge and experience, insights and understanding, faith, and love of neighbor that we can empower each other and make this a safer and happier country in solidarity with our international supporters.
Fair-trade is much more than buying and selling products at fair prices. It is working for the enhancement of human dignity, protecting vulnerable and exploited people. Nothing dehumanizes people as much as abject poverty and hunger.
Because of unjust trade, greed, selfishness and irresponsible government, war and climate change, there are 1.02 billion people world wide that are hungry and malnourished.1 That number reflects an increase of 146 million hungry and impoverished people since 2008. This is what we have to change, the injustice that more than a billion people, mostly children, go to bed hungry and sick, in a rich and wealthy world.
Fr. Shay Cullen lives and works in the Philippines. For more information, please visit www.preda.org
1 U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization