Dreams, Optimism, Wisdom


Erle Frayne Argonza


Climate change is reshaping human engagements the world over. In Africa, observations have already been made before regarding vulnerabilities to climate change and related attendant ecological concerns.


Below is a report regarding energy interventions that could re-adjust the livelihood/economic engagements of peoples of Africa.


[09 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to database news.]




A preliminary assessment of energy and ecosystem resilience in ten African countries

Authors: Connor,H.; Mqadi,L.; Mukheibir,P.
Produced by: HELIO International (2007)

Africa is vulnerable to climate change on two fronts: firstly, because of existing vulnerabilities and secondly, due to capacity limitations for disaster mitigation and inability to adapt to climate change. There is an urgent need to ensure that activities centring on adaptation to climate change and sustainable energy development are increased and maintained so as to generate sustainable livelihoods.

This paper is a preliminary attempt to identify points of vulnerability as they relate to climate change-related events and sketch out what changes are needed – both politically and programmatically – to increase resilience. It explores the current state of vulnerability and details potential for adaptation. Results are presented summarising the key vulnerabilities for eight sub-Saharan countries: Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

It is argued that energy development for Africa in a changing climate will require greater emphasis on small-scale, decentralised and diversified supply and increased distribution to households and enterprises alike. A diversified and distributed energy mix is identified as the best insurance policy against climate change. However, it is argued that adaptation of energy policies and systems is only part of the solution; building up the resiliency of local populations and energy systems is equally important.

Key priorities identified for policy are:

    • harness the value of indigenous knowledge to plan and achieve resilience
    • mobilise adequate and stable financial resources
    • mainstream adaptation and resilience in the development process
    • develop policies to institutionalise and mobilise “social capital”

The authors conclude that, despite the obstacles facing Africa, hope is not lost. They identify a number of positive characteristics upon which successful programmes can and should be built, including:

    • culturally, Africa has strong social networks, which serve an important function in educating communities, disseminating information and serving as substitutes for collateral in micro-loans
    • as primary collectors and users of biomass and water, women are well-placed to monitor and manage resources, spur innovation on adaptive techniques and experiment with new management approaches
    • Africa’s decades-long experience coping with poverty that may be its strongest resource. By its collective survival, the region has shown itself to be adaptive and resilient despite enormous obstacles.

Available online at: 



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

[Writ 07 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Writer was former Livelihood Coordinator of the Ministry of Human Settlements, PAC Gonzaga, from July 1981-June 1982. In Jan. 82 he was designated Acting Deputy Provincial Manager, concurrent with the livelihood post.]

Let me go through with my continuing journey as a young development professional, and transport you this time to the town of coastal town of Ballesteros in Cagayan. This town is famous for its crustaceans, notably crabs and lobsters. Let me stress here that the crabs and lobsters were huge by size compared to the ordinary, making them worth writing.

In the last quarter of 1982 my agency then, the MHS, finally recruited, trained and deployed Municipal Staff Assistants or MSAs. It was a great relief to acquire the “new kids on the block”, as it lifted so many burdens from us provincial staff, both technical and communicative (information dissemination of the KKK). From Ballesteros came this lanky young male staff (name now escapes my memory), with long ‘babalo’ chin. He was a no mean staff, to recall.

Mr. Bubbles (that’s how I jokingly call ‘babalo’ long chin folks) brought to my attention right away the huge potentiality of expanding crustacean production in his town. Unfazed by his rather dynamic explanation, who was almost gyrating like Elvis Presley during his presentation, I arranged for some consultations with fish farmers there (crustacean producers who operated onshore) as well as municipal fishers (who operated offshore). I simply wished to verify what my staff had reported to me then.

I found out that my staff did presented information in as truthful a manner as possible, verifying every millimeter of his report to the dot. I then arranged a visitation to the coastal area to see for myself what things were in there. To my own shock (I do get this feeling in the field at times), I realized that their ‘gears’ for fish farming was appallingly primitive (hmmm this is what I got for being an acculturated Big City boy in Manila: culture shock at local life). They used guava twigs that were planted below the sea level, after which the fish farmers would pick them up, with the ‘victims’ riding on the twigs.

As usual, my team’s task was to conceptualize what innovation to introduce there. That’s why our job is called ‘development’. To recoup from my initial shock (I really had to criticize myself silently), I quickly arranged for consultations with the technical staff of the BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources) who became our constant partners in the area (they were so elated at our arrival there), as well as the professors of the Cagayan State University (CSU) –Gonzaga branch (agriculture & fisheries campus). From the consultations and research of my staff, we pieced up information about the techno-component that would be simple to operate and utilize local resources for inputs.

Since we already had municipal fishing with bagoong making in Gonzaga, my team, with the nod of our BFAR partners, decided to focus crustacean fish farming in Ballesteros. So we had this double task of convincing the municipal fishers in the town to sideline as fish farmers if they wish to benefit from the KKK enterprise finance program there.

Our simple innovation introduced to them was the ‘fish cage’, or ‘crustacean trap’. It was made of wooden and tree branches, with grill-fashioned openings to let the smaller crabs & lobsters get in, where they’d stay and feed. As soon as they grew in size, it was difficult for them to go out if at all (experiments have shown they don’t go out as they acclimatize to the domicile). Simple indeed, but so sensible as it increased the yield of the marine farmers.

We also had to convince the fish farmers to apply as individual proponents. The parameters in the area were different from that of neighbor Gonzaga where offshore fishing was the primary engagement. It was more fruitful if each individual would work on his ‘crustacean yard’ (by the sea), though collectively they would have to secure the area together (there are always thieves everywhere, remember).

Project approval was fast for this one. I don’t recall now the exact figures per project. But my recall is sharp regarding the approval, financing, re-training of fish farmers, take-off, and the most important: taste of the final result. The lobsters and crabs using the traps were even larger than the previous pre-trap days! I’m sure you’d agree with me that these crustaceans warm up the heart and brighten your day when you see, feel and taste them.



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Two towns away to the east of Appari, Cagayan is the town of Gonzaga. Like its neighboring towns of Sta Ana (to its east) and Ballesteros (to its west), and those other coastal towns north of Cagayan, Gonzaga is home to fishery engagements. These are largely small fishers, or municipal fishers who could only go fishing by as much as ten (10) kilometers from the shoreline.

A town in the doldrums economically, this town though had the luck of being chosen as the site for the Provincial Action Center (PAC) of the Ministry of Human Settlements (MHS) for Northern Cagayan & Batanes. The PAC building itself was newly done in 1981 when we respective personnel occupied it. No sooner had we sat down there, I being the new Livelihood Coordinator for that area, when we got swamped with inquiries about the Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran or KKK, the new enterprise finance program of government.

It was from this town where my team encountered many small planters and fishers. One group of fishers comprised of gentlemen who each had some fishing gears to operate, comprising of a 12-18 foot canoe (made from wood) with out-trigger, fish net, volvo outboard motor, and accessories. In contrast to the capital town of Tuguegarao where the experience was an attitude of luke warmth-to-indifference of folks towards the KKK, here there was enthusiasm about the program.

After some discussions with them, my team arranged for visitations of the operation area (coast). We had to be careful in dealing with these guys, because that town was home to the insurgent New People’s Army (NPA), and any mistake would turn out risky and costly. Without them telling us, I sensed that some of the folks were in fact doing espionage work for the NPAs. Instead of getting scared of that situation, I took it as an opportunity to show to the folks that development work is sincere, that if we can deliver the goods these same folks would cooperate well with the “new kids on the block” (team of development managers & implementers). Even the NPAs would admire us and not bother us and our beneficiaries for ‘revolutionary taxation’ which they never did.

It took us almost a month of discussions, visitations, and preliminary data gathering before we could decide what to counsel the folks. First, the fishers knew how to go about with their business, but their lives aren’t improving much, so it must be made clear to them that there is a gap in their competencies including technical (their gears are backward, though indigenous to the area). Second, we had information about the fishery resources in the locality, and knowledge about how to expand their markets. Third, we got the extra information that the town folks produced bagoong, or fermented fish, though production was primitive (home-made fermentation using terra cotta jars).

Piecing up the information together, including what institutional innovation to introduce, we then counseled the fishers confidently of the following: (1) instead of individual proponents, the group will cooperativize; (2) certain technical skills, including the management of the cooperative, the finances and control systems, and the marketing strategies, will be taught to them; (3) bagoong production will be the forward integration component for processing of small fish types (notably the dilis); (4) fishing nets will adjust to the larger team of fishers, so that bigger nets can be utilized and bigger outputs yielded.

After getting the clear nod of the group, we went about with our partnering business, taking another month to produce the business plan, begin cooperative training and assist in processing document, designing the tank for the bagoong production site (we had an engineer who helped us design a concrete tank), and other tasks.  The funding then was so open, so when the group submitted their documents and I endorsed the project for approval (funding at P350,000), it didn’t take a month for final approval (by the regional office) and the release of first tranche of funds.

Construction of the bagoong site began immediately, coupled with acquisition of larger boats, nets and gears. In no time at all did the contractor finished the ‘factory’ site, which had a concrete tank of 10 feet long by 4 feet width, and 2 feet height. Fermentation formula was 1:4 (1 can of salt for every 4 cans of fresh fish). The upper portion contained a faucet located 6 inches below the top, which released the patis (fermented sauce) that floated on top.

Upon launching and initial catch plus initial fermentation, our team and the proponents were so elated at the result. The bagoong tasted really good, so was the patis qualitatively good, it didn’t take the group a hard time to market them. So with fish catch (sold pronto in the coast to middlemen traders) and bagoong + patis as sideline, the fishers finally tasted better life. This is truly bagoong for better living, and remains among the legacy of Gonzaga.

[Writ 07 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]




Erle Frayne Argonza y Delago


[Writ  05 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]


Perhaps the readers may recall that a couple of years back, Sec. Angelo Reyes of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) initiated massive tree planting and the  constitution of ecology volunteers’ groups for the purpose. The trees were visibly planted along the pan-Philippine highway and strategic areas, for greater impact generation.


That project was very appreciable, but it was not the original thing. In the years 1979-81, the new Ministry of Human Settlements or MHS constituted village brigades comprising of volunteers, one such brigade being the ‘ecology balance brigade’. With ‘ecology balance’ identified among the ’11 Basic Needs of Man’, it was but proper to organize brigades and enact ecology balance via massive tree planting, biodiversity where appropriate, recycling or ‘waste utilization’ projects, and new laws declaring as mandatory in all new residential villages the allotment of 30% of land for parks & open spaces alone.


I joined the MHS in early 1981, then fresh from college, as a community services assistant at the Regional Liaison Office – Regioin II. I recall well that one of the first tasks I had to do was to monitor the brigades and town-level organizers (Human Settlements’ Officers). The ‘ecology brigades’, to my amazement, were at par in organizational development with the others (water, power, education, S&T, mobility…), its members actively engaged in localized projects.


But the most focal impactful project of that time was the massive tree planting, with the giant Ipil-Ipil serving as lead crop. The small native ipil was also massively disseminated, more so that it served as good input for livestock feeds. The miraculous thing about the giant ipil-ipil was that it grew so fast, its branches extending outward at rapid rates, and so it took no time at all to harvest them.


Unlike the Reyes-initiated project that concentrated cultivation in main arterial roads, the Maharlika tree planting (as the MHS dubbed the project then) cultivated in both the arterial and peripheral roads. And, in pioneer ipil tree farms inland, many of which took off and benefitted the small planters with great fulfillment.


It was during my monitoring sortees to the different towns of Cagayan Valley that I conducted the extra task of morale-boosting the ecology brigades and briefing the HSOs accordingly about the massive tree planting program. By the start of the 2nd quarter of 1981, we staff devoted succeeding days for immersing ourselves in the tree planting efforts, documentation and consultations with tree planters, and networking with state agencies that supported the project. We did the same thing again in 1982, and another session in 1983 (my last year in the MHS/Region II).


Seeing the success of the 1981 wave of ipil cultivation, the newly constituted livelihood program quickly caught the ecology fever and designed ‘tree farming’ and ‘dendrothermal’ projects, utilitizing ipil trees. They were circumscribed within the ‘agroforestry’ and the ‘waste utilization’ project modules (there were 7 such modules then). Seeing my acumen for project development, the new management pulled out pronto from community services and was directed to be among the pioneer staff for livelihood, which I so gladly accepted. I had many wonderful moments brainstorming and conceptualizing enterprise projects, from micro- to SME levels, including this wave of ‘tree farming’ and ‘dendrothermal’.


The seedling banks for ipil trees, both giant and small, were simply too many that they dotted the entire archipelago, including Manila. Likewise was the market for ipil so huge and well established, including the feed mills. It need not belabored that the giant trees contributed in no small measure to the oxygenation of the surrounds, and protective canopies for travelers and pasture breeds.


We volunteer and small planters than considered ourselves true ecologists. And, thanks heavens, there were no ‘environmentalist’ groups then, whose ceaseless sloganeering is so annoying they could have slowed down the projects altogether. I really have the great wish that these ‘environmentalists’ will immerse their hands in production and re-green the mountains, so they can join the true ecologists and exercise Oneness in spirit and action. It may not be too late for them to do just that. 



Erle Frayne Argonza y Delago


[Writ 04 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]


As I went around Batan Island, Batanes province’s main isle that contains the capital Basco and the domestic airport, for the 1st time in 1981, I immediately scheduled visits to the Mayors of Mahatoa, Ivana and Uyugan towns. I heard from my kins, the Basco Mayor Castillejos included, and staff that these towns still practiced consuming ‘sweet potato’ and ‘gabi roots’ as staples. Prior to that, I saw with my own eyes the huge bulbs of garlic that dwarfed the golf-sized ‘native’ varieties we had in the ‘mainland’ (Luzon). I told myself I can’t miss out on this opportunity to biz-track the root crops of Batanes.


I was then livelihood coordinator of the Ministry of Human Settlements for Northern Cagayan & Batanes in the 2nd semester of 1981, so I had the mandate to do development tasks for this paradise island. So enchanting was this province that I literally experienced heart pains whenever I left Basco back for Tuguegarao and Gonzaga in Cagayan where my official headquarters were located. Part of the enchantment was the wonderful root crops there: sweet potato (kamote roots), gabi roots, garlic, onion, and ginger.


Right away, upon arriving at Mahatao town hall, the lady mayor served my team fried sweet potatoes that were sliced so thin they would pass for some manufactured sweet potato chips. The lunch came, and there went out the boiled sweet potato, served alongside the viands. Lunch was also served with the wonder wine made from sugar called palec. No rice was served at all.


After lunch we visited farm lands planted with the root crops. I was amazed to see farms planted in the old biodiversity way rather than the nutrient-damaging monocrop system. All the root crops mentioned here co-existed in plots as small as half a hectare. The small planters than informed me that they were interested in increasing the volume of production and explored marketing some products to the ‘mainland’. They needed some fresh funds to increase the land area (via purchase), install good storage facilities, and working capital for farm inputs and marketing expenses later.


I was then motored to Ivana town after that, and lastly to Uyugan (hmmm am I right in my ordering?). Traversing these towns was via an asphalted road at the periphery of the islands, and overlooking the sea below. To your left are the stone houses of Batan, much like those of the isle of Capri in Italy. Herds of Brahman cows and carabaos could also be seen, consuming the luscious verdant pastures of the rolling hills. Perfectly idyllic! Splendid! …I heard practically the same things from the small planters there, about the need to expand production.


That is, the prototype ‘root crops project’ there would turn planters from subsistence producers to commercial producers, turn them into agro-businessmen. Seeing that the planters knew what they were aiming at and how to achieve it, save for writing the technical papers (biz plans, proposals) and processing them, I “jumped the gun” pronto and declared that for the whole of Batanes (including the other isles of Sabtang and Itbayat that was nearer Taiwan than Batan) will have root crops production as priority investments for state assistance.


As soon as I convened the new Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran Secretariat there (I was already the deputy provincial manager-designate), I put on the top agenda that root crops and indigenous crafts of the island shall be preserved, not only as part of the development program there but also because the products and crafts are part of the national heritage. Anticipating the ‘green revolution’ in Batanes then, I also put on the agenda of the core Provincial Development Council the fast-tracking of electrification and wharf expansion, and the acquisition by Batanes of its own maritime ship that will enable trade expansion by leaps and bounds.


With only a year to operate in Batanes, I did everything I can to see to it that the development principles and targets I initiated there will take off at least, sensing that I might be re-assigned (promotions for this young technocrat was dizzyingly rapid). P500,000 worth of root crops projects alone, owned by small planters, were approved in early 1982, during my watch (that’s P10 Million today). Couples of millions more worth of projects were on the pipeline. Happily, when these projects took off, the National Electrification Administration team arrived, installing at last the long awaited electrification facilities in Batan.


Finally, let this be stressed strongly, I moved for the retention of the biodiversity practices in Batan. With ‘ecology balance’ among my agency’s priority agenda, I had sufficient weapon to support biodiversity rather than shift the planters to mono-cropping that sadly sapped out soil nutrients in ‘mainland Philippines’ since their inception during the time yet of Spanish Governor General Basco (1700s).


Every time I left Basco back for Tuguegarao then, I also had on hand more than a kilogram of garlic, sometimes with onions and ginger. I was so proud of the garlic that I always brought a few samples to show to my kins and fellow state officials in the ‘mainland’. The same variety now is cultivated in many regions of the country. But Batanes’ cutting edge is fully recognized: garlic & rootcrops here were planted in the sole paradise islands of the north. Ipso facto, they are root crops that enchant too, like their mother soil.



Erle Frayne D. Argonza

[Writ 03 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

Dios ta aggawaw! (Ibanag equivalent for ‘good day’!)

It may seem yucky a reportage to many obsessive-compulsives out there to hear that earthworms serve the most noble purpose of reinforcing our food needs. I mean not only the wormy task of processing our soil, but the true-blue blending of processed earthworm to produce biscuits and wafers.


That technology—of vermiculture—was born for way back three (3) decades today. I was just an entry level community development staff at the Ministry of Human Settlements’ RLO (regional liaison office) in 1981 when I had my first taste of wafers containing vermiculture inputs. The wafer was distributed by my agency to disaster refugees, often alongside the nutri-bun or bread reinforced with protein.


Protein is the nutrient so potently contained in the worm. And the agency’s Technology Resource Center (today’s Technology Livelihood Resource Center) was itself among the developers and distributors of the technology, aside from the National Science Development Board (today’s Department of Science & Technology). The wafer, as you ought to realize, tasted so damn delicious you’re going to ask for more packs right after your first taste.


When I was moved to livelihood as a coordinator, my reverie about this deli-earthworm wafer was jolted by the arrival of a team of entrepreneurs, young and ebullient, right at my office. The year was late 1981, and the team was bullish about installing a full-production base of vermiculture, right in my hometown of Tuguegarao. “Vermiculture in this semi-sleepy town! Hello!”


Upon a cursory review of the business plan forwarded by the team (both gentlemen, names now escape my memory), and then moving my focals back to the gentlemen, I recognized not only the feasibility of the project but also its vitality for Cagayan province that was essentially agriculture till these days. I told myself, “these guys are pretty serious!”


Cognizant of the competence of the team, who were already trained in vermiculture as indicated by their certificate, I immediately arranged for a visit to their demo site that was inside the home of the main partner. Right in front of my eyes I beheld these worms so huge I thought they must be some extra-terrestrial earthworms. But no, they were the simple backyard worms we know, though grown specially or in controlled environment. A sample worm was as stout as my forefinger and as long as 14 inches. Wow!


Not only that, but the two gentlemen (who applied as a partnership for funding thru the Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran or KKK) even demonstrated before our eyes (I was with some junior staff) that the worms can be prepared salad-style. Vinegar and salt with pepper was prepared, and voila! The worms, still alive, were dipped right into the salad dressing and eaten raw. By golly! You’d puke if you’re not prepared for this.


Well, to cut the story short, I had this project recommended for priority funding and take off. The team knew what they were doing, from production to marketing of the products. They already had some commitments with their end-users that they attached to the application documents. In 1982, it became one of our showcase livelihood projects in Tuguegarao, and the gentlemen had their feast of invitations for demo lectures, radio interviews and recognition in the KKK Recognition Day (held once monthly).


Now, as to tasting the ‘dancing salad’ of live worm, well, hmmmm I’d prefer the wafer (smile). No, no, I can’t eat any raw live animal thing, my stomach is quite weak and sensitive. Let them cook the worm, and maybe I’ll try it. Well, that’s a culinary item, so let’s just hope someone’s got to write something about nice spicey earthworm cuisine.   



Erle Frayne D. Argonza


[Writ 01 May 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]


Samurais in Tuguearao! That must be a farfetched chimera, but truly in this capital town of Cagayan province (Northern Philippines) is located a village of cottage industries run and managed by marginal artisans. Their chief craft was, and remains to be that of bladed metal works.


I was pretty busy scouring for bankable projects in my own hometown (my basic education years were spent in Tuguegarao) as early as 1981 when news came to me that a certain group of Larion craftsmen desired to bolt away from their tradition and diversify into hmmm samurai swords. Already a junior executive of the Ministry of Human Settlements after barely out of college, I had the luck of having among my personnel a driver who was bona fide resident of Larion village (barrio was the term then).


The driver (Rolando Tumpalan), an Ilocano like all of his neighbors in Larion, was very vivid in his presentation to me one day of the plan of his neighbors to diversify into samurai swords and accessories. I knew since childhood that Larion produced bolos and knives, made from cast iron scraps, even as my own family abode possessed couples of the same products. But to say of samurai swords, well, my encyclopedia set was telling me that the original thing was made of a specially forged steel alloy. Besides, I knew by then that samurai craft (it was home industry in Japan) was dying if not dead already. Japanese considered themselves as Western people and had nothing to do with seemingly phoney items from their past, including kimonos and samurai blades.


Before some Larion guys might be playing tricks on me, I summoned my operations manager (Mia Calimag) and Livelihood Coordinator (Bong) to immediately set a rendezvous between the regional director of the National Cottage Industry or NACIDA (name now escapes my memory) and myself, with our technical staff around. The NACIDA was one of our partner agencies in implementing the KKK and was already in operations way ahead of us in the region (my agency was regionalized only in mid-1981).


Well, thanks to this magnanimous NACIDA official, he came right to my office, breaking protocol by visiting the office of an erstwhile official of lower rank. We than set our joint agenda and modus operandi first of all, updated each other about initial enterprise support operations of our respective agencies, and determined whether the Larion metalworkers were worth supporting. To my own surprise, this director (quite a fat guy but very intelligent) was very enthusiastic about the samurai project.


This being so, we immediately arranged for a visit to the proposed project site in Larion, had a chat with the officials of the cooperative (the coop served as beneficiary), inspected their facilities, and then delivered pep talks to the members. We were then shown models of the proxy swords produced by them, and wow! My eyes almost popped out of wonderment. The products were splendid! The intended captive market was the tourists, with domestic tourist resorts and trade exhibit sites serving as primary forward linkages.


The funding support from the KKK (Kilusang Kabuhayan at Kaunlaran) was needed to procure extra machines (metal lathe included), mini-furnace, increase the volume of raw materials (steel scraps), improve the storage area, hiring marketing & sales staff, re-train the artisans, and for around three (3) months of working capital. Funding level was past P0.5 Million, with approval done merely at our regional level (past the P1 Million it has to go to central office).


The Larion coop members were very elated over the support shown by us state officials over their venture. Such an elation would extend throughout the processing of their documents and pre-operational trainings, and on through their appearances in some KKK Recognition Days (held once a month).


The project did take off and operate successfully, and made the name of Larion blade makers shine brightly beyond their previous marginal state. It’s now over a quarter of a decade since that project commenced, and I wish the Larion samurais had graduated to global standards in any way.