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Friday, September 22, 2023

(Part 2) From Wasteland to Wonderland: Transforming a degraded, barren land into a sustainable organic farm resort

(Second of a Series)


SUKAILANG, Surigao City—Surigao del Sur may have appropriated for itself the monicker “Shangrila in the Pacific” since the late 2000s because of its many and varied tourist attractions, but just a few minutes away from this city’s población is an approximation of James Hilton’s Shangri-La.
While Hilton’s Shangri-La is just a product of his imagination which was immortalized in his seminal book Lost Horizon, the JB Nature Farm and Resort is the product of hard work, research and acted dream of Engr. Woodrow Escobal Jr. and Dr. Bessie Escobal. 
Located 19.8 kilometers southeast of the city población, the former no man’s land, due to the presence of the communist rebels who made their lairs in Barangay Sukailang after loggers and miners stripped the area bare, is now lush with greenery and teeming with wildlife.
The Escobals, from Siargao, were then dreaming of living in a place away from the dictates of their busy work schedule: Engr. Jun spent 11 years in Santander, Cebu as a development worker for World Vision; he later co-founded the Surigao del Norte NGO Coalition for Development (SUNGCOD), Inc. and later transferred to the DTI here while wife Bessie is busy as an OB-Gynecologist-Sonologist-Coposcopist.
In 2003, a friend brought them to Sukailang to see the place. Aside from it being barren, the land was pockmarked with so many mine holes and boulders that only straggling grasses and wild Red Finger Fern (Lygodium circinnatum) locally known as Agsam or Nito, a large wild fern endemic to several areas in Mindanao, were growing in some patches.
But the couple fell in love with the area.  After taking possession of 1,000 square meters of land, the couple then proceeded to rehabilitate and regenerate the land. “This area was not ideal for farming due to logging and mining. So we look for ways to make the land productive naturally. Now the land has recovered,” Engr. Jun said.
The couple started building their dream house in Sukailang in 2005, which was finished three years later, in 2008. In 2006, the owners of the adjacent land sold their 3.5 hectares to the Escobals.
Amid the construction, Engr. Jun trawled the internet researching for techniques to naturally restore the land to its former glory while slowly planting bamboos, fruit trees and hardwood such as narra and mangiums seedlings on their property.
“What you see here now is a man-made forest. This tree was the very first tree we planted when we acquired this property,” he said while pointing to the Talisay tree (also known as Indian Almond; with a scientific name of Terminalia catappa) that grows between the resort’s kitchen, officially called Tessie’s Kitchen in honor of Dr. Bessie’s mother, and the resort’s conference and dining hall.
It was also during this time that he came across the agriculture principle/technique called Permaculture. “I have no formal education or training about permaculture. What I learned and applied here are all from my own research on the internet.” (To be continued)

(Ed’s note: Bong Fabe is with the WWF Philippines as integrated communications manager for its SMILE Project in Siargao and Dinagat Islands, an EU-funded project being undertaken in partnership with the UP-AIT and AIEC ILAW.")

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