Where Peasants Are Kings: Food Sovereignty in the Tagbanua Traditional Subsistence System


  • Sophia Maria Mable Cuevas Philippine Rice Research Institute
  • Juan Emmanuel Capiral Fernandez University of Chicago
  • Imelda de Guzman Olvida Philippine Rice Research Institute




Indigenous Peoples, Philippines, Poverty, Seed Sovereignty, Subsistence Farming, Swidden Agriculture


Food sovereignty is predicated upon the rights of communities to determine culturally meaningful methods of agricultural cultivation in order to ensure the security of their diets and their lifeworld. The article provides an ethnographic study of two Tagbanua indigenous communities in the province of Palawan, Philippines, and analyzes the relation between swidden agriculture and food sovereignty. Traditional swidden farming is an integrative system that defines social relationships, structures a spiritual belief system, and builds a fundament of the Tagbanua identity. As a cultural praxis, it is also central to the manifestation of food sovereignty within the market system, constantly being challenged by internal exigencies – as opportunities for cultural reproduction are limited by changing lifestyles – and external interventions from both private and public sectors. The article discusses how the Tagbanua subsistence cultivation system serves as the main mechanism through which indigenous cultural communities assert their independence from the market system, thus establishing local control over food and food production systems.

Author Biographies

Sophia Maria Mable Cuevas, Philippine Rice Research Institute

Sophia Maria Mable Cuevas is the current acting curator of the Rice Science Museum of the Philippine Rice Research Institute in Nueva Ecija, Philippines. She is currently researching food production systems among indigenous or traditional cultural communities. Contact: smm.cuevas@philrice.gov.ph

Juan Emmanuel Capiral Fernandez, University of Chicago

Juan Emmanuel Capiral Fernandez is a masters student at the University of Chicago. His current research focuses on anthropological photography in the early American-occupied Philippines and the fascination with men's bodies.  Contact: jefernandez@uchicago.edu

Imelda de Guzman Olvida, Philippine Rice Research Institute

Imelda de Guzman Olvida is a development communication specialist at the Development Division of the Philippine Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines. She has been involved with development projects that focus on the promotion of rice technologies for over ten years. Contact: id.olvida@philrice.gov.ph






Current Research on Southeast Asia