Toxic Precarities and Slow Time in the Igorot Kankana-ey Vegetable Gardens

Jose Kervin Cesar CALABIAS*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsConference Paper (other)Other Conference Paperpeer-review


This paper is taken from my autoethnographic graduate thesis on Igorot Kankana-ey commercial vegetable gardening in the municipality of Buguias in Benguet province in northern Philippines. In this project, I interface my personal memories, including family photographs of ritual feasting, family gatherings, and agricultural activities with fieldwork conducted in the area from 2016 to 2017. Weaving focus group discussions and in-depth interviews of these Indigenous Filipino vegetable gardeners and other actors and institutions of the industry with my family’s archive and lived experience as vegetable gardeners, I describe and analyse the contemporary eco-cultural practices surrounding Igorot Kankana-ey commercial vegetable gardening that shape and mobilize an ecocritical Kankana-ey indigeneity. I argue that this risk-driven economy of Indigenous agriculture has brought about other forms of “toxic precarities” on Indigenous livelihood, identity, and communities in which land or daga is central to their ecological gamble; from plying the dangerous highland roads, racing to sell their goods especially during typhoon season of which landslides and road accidents are common down to risking soil structure and integrity for intensive agrochemical monocropping and cliffside terracing. These also reconfigure Indigenous feasting practices where, such as in my family’s case, certain ritual obligations are modified, postponed, or even discontinued by certain family members mostly for economic reasons, “risking” ancestral/spiritual “anger.” While there are other known environmental damages of agrochemicals and other pesticides and fertilizers used in the region, other long-term social, cultural, and biological effects of commercial highland vegetable gardening have yet to unfold, emphasising how temporality in the vegetable gardens is slow, incremental, and toxic. Therefore, these toxic precarities and “slow time” usher in other forms of equally risky and precarious labour such as overseas work and other forms of circular migration participated by younger more “mobile” members of the community that often leave the land or daga to be tended by an aging community. While contemporary forms of Indigenous identification and social movements regard land as crucial to indigeneity, the economic gains or what Martin Lewis described earlier as the “jackpot” from the risk and gamble of commercial highland vegetable gardening sought after by Indigenous gardeners continue to complicate the struggle for ancestral land rights, environmental preservation, and indigeneity.

My research can contribute to the aims of this workshop as it rearticulates the agricultural process from the lens of cultural studies to emphasize the ecocritical politics of indigeneity, including the risks both natural and cultural that are made by Igorot Kankana-ey gardeners to continue to supply majority of the need for fresh highland vegetables in the country’s capital alone, making us rethink what is at stake for rural Indigenous peoples to continue to put food on the nation’s table.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2022
EventHalo-Halo Ecologies : a Translational Workshop on Emergent Philippine Environments and Foodways - Online
Duration: 15 Jun 202218 Jun 2022


WorkshopHalo-Halo Ecologies : a Translational Workshop on Emergent Philippine Environments and Foodways
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