“I am embarrassed to talk in front of many people, especially in front of important people, like all of you. Para sa isang pobre at simpleng magsasaka tulad ko, parang imposible at mahirap na humarap sa inyo dahil napakalayo ng lugar na ito mula sa Pilipinas. Akala ko hindi ako makakapunta dito dahil wala akong birth certificate. (For a poor and simple farmer like myself, it felt impossible to be here to address you all: this place is very far from the Philippines. I thought I wouldn't make it here because I don't have a birth certificate),”
This is how Eulogio ‘Tay Gipo’ Sasi Jr., a 64 year old Pinoy farmer from North Cotabato, commenced his speech at the opening of the Svalvard Global Seed Vault in Norway a year ago. The audience? 150 scientists, diplomats and world leaders, which included 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Awardee Wangari Maathal of Kenya and UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Secretary General Jacques Diouf.
In 2008, Tay Gipo was invited by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of Norway to share the story of how he successfully developed a rice variety that he named Bordagol -- which is now highly distributed and used by farmers the world over because of its outstanding tillering trait and incredible resistance to pests and plant diseases.
“He was a farmer who, despite having only four years of formal education, discovered a rice variety that proved to be high-yielding and pest resistant, the sample of which is among the thousands of seeds kept at the global seed vault,” said Norway Minister of Agriculture and Food Lard Peder Brekk.
"During a particularly tough year, he noticed one plant in his field that did not succumb to the virus 'tungro'. He literally had to pull the plant from the mouth of a farm animal who was planning to have it for a snack – he saved the seeds, replanted them and the next season he harvested 25 kilograms just from the seeds of that one plant."
Bardagol is now part of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault - a seed back-up facility that protects important agricultural 'artifacts', inventions and discoveries from natural or man-made catastrophes -- like Climate Change or world wars. The vault is Norway's way of making sure that the world's agricultural achievements will never be lost.
Just last Thursday, February 26, 2009, Tay Gipo was again honored by Norway for this highly-important contribution to world-sustenance and for his highly moving and powerful speech last year. It is a sad thing though that he couldn't be there to witness it; Tay Gipo passed away just last month at the age of 64.
Nonetheless, as so eloquently put by Minister Brekk,
"[Tay Gipo's] legacy remains in the fields of the Philippines - where his “Bordagol” is grown by his neighbors - and their neighbors. And his legacy remains here in Svalbard where seeds of his “Bordagol” are safely stored for the future."
Mabuhay ka, Tay Gipo! Thank you for your contribution to world sustenance and for making all Filipinos proud!
Story Credit: Good News Pilipinas and Pinoy Press