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Meet the woman changing the landscape of local produce and her foundation’s mission of reforestation

Renee Araneta-Perrine, along with the seven tribes of Bukidnon, is bringing back the lushness of the province's mountains and bringing native crops to a wider market.

BUKIDNON, PHILIPPINES — With only less than 1.5% of rainforests remaining in the Philippines, local non-profit organization Hineleban Foundation aims to reforest the buffer zones surrounding the Kitanglad and Kalatungan mountain ranges in Bukidnon, and bring back the lushness of its natural environment. The non-profit organization also has a for-profit counterpart called Hineleban Farms that works closely with the Indigenous People of the area, all of whom come from seven different tribes that united for the same causes: to save their rainforests and sustain their livelihoods by growing and selling food crops. 

“The name Hineleban is from an indigenous epic story and was also granted to us by the seven tribes of Bukidnon. Hineleban means ‘the mother tree of the rainforest that sustains the cycle of all life.’ It’s represented by the ficus tree or the balete tree,” explained Hineleban Foundation Co-founder Renee Araneta-Perrine to adobo Magazine. Renee is part of the foundation’s board of directors, as well as a member of an international group of permaculture consultants and designers. She’s also teaching in the newly built Tuminugan Farm School with the goal of introducing alternative nation building through circular economies per bio region. As the leader of the massive NGO, she showed her passion for restoring the once-verdant greenery of Bukidnon. “I’m originally from Manila, then I moved here when I met my husband in 2006. When I came to this farm in Bukidnon, it was so lush and forested. I thought that it was always like that. But my husband said, ‘No, this used to be all cogonal, except for one bamboo and avocado tree.’”

Tuminugan Farm School, Bukidnon

How Hineleban came to be

Renee saw in the Philippine forest book done by the Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC) that in the 1900s, the Philippines was 70% covered with forests. Because of the massive logging that happened until 1970, it went down to just 34%. When this book was published in 2000, it had only 3% of forests left. Now, the country has less than 1.5% of primary forests. “The design of the forest system is partly wildlife — we humans are just one of the many species. We’re so destructive and we destroy their habitat at the same time,” Renee commented. “So in 2006, when I saw those pictures, John said, ‘Before, there were no trees here.’ I asked, ‘What is your passion in life? What do you want to do?’ And he said, ‘I really want to try to reforest what was taken,’ so we formed Hineleban. The non-profit side is the foundation and the for-profit side is the farm.”


The farm where Hineleban practices its cause is now called Tuminugan Farm, and the name was given to them by the Indigenous People. When Renee and her team came to the area and realized that it was all cogonal, they reforested it back to 70%. The Indigenous People said, “We should call this space tuminugan,’” which means “paradise that sprung out of nothing, created by God” or their Indigenous deity called Magbabáya.

Seven tribes, one cause

The mutual recognition and respect in the partnership between Hineleban Foundation and the Indigenous People of Bukidnon are something to be admired. Renee explained, “We are all these different people who joined together as one tribe — the Muslims, the Indigenous People, and us Christians. We have our vision that we put together: we are stewards of God and His creations.” 

The united community aims to restore the high mountain forests of Mindanao. Their values and mission are that of a God-centered organization, united as one family with diverse cultural communities. In alignment with this, they share God’s values of love, compassion, truthfulness, trustworthiness, and perseverance. They engage the high mountain forests and communities, and provide them with sustainable livelihoods, thereby reviving their role as custodians of the forests. By doing so, they build bridges of peace and provide beacons of hope to those who have the least in the island of Mindanao in a partnership of equals, respecting the dignity of the unique culture of the Indigenous and Bangsamoro People. “When my husband first moved here, all of his neighbors were Indigenous People. He did a sacred customary compact with them. It’s a declaration of what we’re going to be doing in this part of the country as one, but it took my husband three years to unite the seven tribes,” Renee added.

With the bond between Hineleban Foundation and the Indigenous People strengthened by the sacred customary compact, they held their first peace and unity celebration in 2013, and then again in 2015 and 2016. Throughout the celebrations, the youth were also invited to participate. “Because the youth is the future, right? So they also had to know our cause,” Renee enthused. “It was nice to see all the seven tribes together and looking at each other’s customary wear because they’re similar but also different, as well as their musical instruments, their dances, and their stories. They were exchanging stories like, ‘What’s your flood story? This is my flood story.’ That was really interesting.” 

She also said that they came together with forgiveness and peace; hugs were shared, and tears were shed. “This is how we do it: with shared values and the proven reforestation methodology. We work together for their food security and a sustainable disposable income crop.”

A partner for life and livelihood

The partnership between the foundation and the tribes is called a “transformational business partnership,” where it also adds value to their products like adlai, coffee, and bamboo. The transformational business partnership is done through reforestation and focuses on the livelihood, food, and housing for the families, and the products themselves. It’s how the foundation transforms lives, landscapes, and the way they do business. 

Renee explained, “Usually, you have your land or you’re leasing a land. Then you rehire the farmers as your help, or they have the land and you outsource them. But with the transformational business partnership, you make the farmer your partner. If you were to grow coffee in one area, you would just grow coffee in an area that’s logistically wise, but we wanted to reach out to the most vulnerable communities in the highlands who also wanted to grow coffee. So, we allotted about 1/4 hectare per family of farmers, but it also depends on how much they can accommodate with labor force.”

Farmers at Tuminugan Farm

“The farmers’ responsibilities are their land and labor, and Hineleban Foundation’s responsibilities include community engagement, participatory culture impact assessment, and maintaining our relationship; meanwhile, a partner company buys back the raw materials, processes them, finds the market for it, sells the products, and then shares the profit equity back to the farmer. This way, the farmers are able to survive without any debt and they can grow to be a thriving community. We also removed the middlemen so that there’s more profit for what we call the circular economy,” Renee explained.

The foundation also teaches the Indigenous People how to grow bamboo and other tree-farming species. For their efforts, the foundation was awarded the Grand Prize for Best Project in the Forestry Sector at an International Competition on Climate Change in 2015 in Paris.

A love for local goods

All of the crops at the Tuminugan Farm, except for coffee, are local. “We work on the gifts that God intended to be here, like taro, cassava, rice, adlai, and corn — all these things are indigenous here,” Renee shared. Among their other grains are the black rice, red rice, pink rice, and binhi seeds. They focus on transforming these to superfood grains instead of bending themselves backwards trying to grow other vegetables like broccoli, kale, asparagus, or potatoes which are not native to the land. “This way, we could feed our nation and we can also transform these to products that the world needs. And unlike doing monocrop, permaculture is more about diversity,” she added. “We’re also doing a lot of research and development on turmeric, corn syrup, flour, and other health products.”

On the origins of the now well-known adlai, Renee shared her first encounter with the small yet potent grain: “In 2015, there was a drought in Aglayan, Malaybalay, Bukidnon. I met this woman and I saw this unfamiliar crop. I asked, ‘What’s that?’ And they said, ‘Adlai.’ Adlai is internationally known as Job’s tears. So I asked, ‘Why don’t you eat this?’ They said, ‘Yeah, we eat it.’ And I asked, ‘But why don’t you sell it?’ She said, ‘There’s no market. Nobody knows what adlai is.’ So we created the market in Manila.

We tested it in the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), and found out it’s much better than quinoa and other superfood grains, so there’s a huge market for it now. We grow it in one of the tribal areas, and we do production technology, harvest technology, process management, quality control, and bring access to the market. This is what we did for adlai — we introduced it to the public since nobody knew what it was,” Renee explained. 

Hineleban Farms also represented the Philippines for the first time at the 2017 Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) Global Expo in Seattle, Washington, USA. Hineleban’s coffee was graded as Excellent with a rating of 86.25 by Marty Curtis, the founder of SCA. “Only 2% of coffee worldwide gets an outstanding score. He also told us to go higher in the land elevation, so we did that in the farm. Our coffee and our adlai were the first Filipino products that came to Healthy Options as well because we passed all the FDA and HACCP certifications,” Renee expressed enthusiastically.

Renee and members of the 7 tribes

Going back to the roots

The farming process at Tuminugan and how products go from farm-to-market are done with benefits for the forest and Indigenous People in mind. “There are so many avenues and opportunities to take. With the reforestation funding, it would be nice to help design their communities. What the Indigenous People did before without the influences of colonialism was what permaculture is really about, as well as how the Indigenous People lived before,” Renee stated. 

Questions on how the Indigenous People were able to survive, what they did with their land, what they ate, and how they drank water before modernization were what inspired Hineleban to approach farming in a sustainable fashion. “It also brings about the spirit of bayanihan — that’s really our culture here. It’s an appreciation of that and living together as a community of love. That’s really something nice to look forward to,” she chimed.

Tuminugan Farm

What’s next for Renee and Hineleban Foundation

With the non-profit foundation, the for-profit farm, and a school to teach at, we asked what plans Renee has for this year. Thoughtfully, she answered, “I think I’ll take it slowly; it’s too much to handle already. We’re actually stepping back as a foundation and as a family to see, ‘How do we handle this? Where do we go?’ We kind of have to pull back before going in again.”

Through some much-needed reflection and going at a slow yet steady pace, we’re sure Hineleban Foundation and Hineleban Farms will still continue to thrive in the potent hands of Renee Araneta-Perrine.

Learn more about Hineleban Foundation and Hineleban Farms by following their Facebook pages, or check out their products on their website

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