Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Peacemaking with organic farming

Palimbang [southwest Mindanao], Phillipines - condensed from 16 July 2007 story in General Santos City Sun-Star

Organic farming has swept hundreds of farmers off their feet in this coastal town .... the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) reportedly used the town as one of their many bases in Mindanao. Muslims basically outnumber the Christian population, the Christians having to flee their villages in 2000 for fear of being annihilated by the Muslims....

"The Christian villages became ‘ghost towns’ because of the revenge killings brought by a minor conflict," recalled Eddie Panes, chairman of the Association of Sustainable Agriculture Practitioners of Palimbang (ASAPP). It took about five years before the soured relationship healed, with the village of Milbuk, where a Roman Catholic Church stands proud, playing the big role. Organic farming pushed by church workers two years ago, particularly diocesan priest Fr. Greto Bugas, basically changed not only the landscape of the town but also restored the harmonious existence of the people.

The Filipino value of bayanihan, where everyone offers help without expecting monetary gains, reared its beautiful head in restoring the lost trust among people of the two faiths through the organic farming method.

Fr. Bugas, Milbuk parish priest, noted that he promoted organic farming in the town since it can help reduce pollution to the environment in the absence of the application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which is the mode in conventional farming. "Moreover, organic farming is the way to improve the lot of farmers. It is an environment-friendly farming method," the priest stressed. He said farmers in the area have difficulty coping with the high costs of fertilizers and pesticides in conventional farming that he pushed going back to old farming practices where plants grow without chemical intervention. "Also, I believed that organic farming is one way to restore the dignity of farmers, wherein they would not be ashamed to say that they are farmers," Fr. Bugas said.
In the last two years, at least 110 hectares of land have been utilized by hundreds of farmers in at least 13 villages of the town's 40 barangays for organic palay [rice] production. Panes backed the claims of the priest that conventional farming is just too much especially for the small farmers in the town. "The yield in conventional farming is about enough to pay the loans for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. It is the financiers that get richer and not the farmers," said Panes, whose association has about 150 active members. Citing a baseline survey conducted by the association among palay farmers in the town, Panes said while it is true that conventional farming has higher yields at an average of at least 100 sacks per hectare, in the end of the computation it "is still not lucrative as it appear."

Deducting all the expenses in conventional farming for chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, he claimed the net income per hectare is only P4,000. Whereas in organic farming which has an average yield of 60 sacks per hectare, net income fetches P7,000, he added. When he was still employing conventional farming method in his two and a half-hectare land, Panes pointed out that about P30,000 to P35,000 are eaten through financing….

Panes took pride in the fact that organic farming has restored the damaged relationship between Christians and Muslims in the locality, which aside from fertile soils is also blessed with a rich fishing ground. "We resort to bayanihan and even included the lumads [indigenous people]," he said, adding that at least two sets of 40 people each worked on the farms a day. Each set can finished planting two hectares daily. After one landowner’s farm has been planted, they would transfer to another farm the next day since the association has already scheduled the planting activity for two cropping seasons a year, Panes said. He further explained that since those participating in their bayanihan system are mostly the landowners themselves, each one is obligated to offer his hand to the other farms after his has been completed by the group. "What the landowner needs to do is to just to feed them if his farm is being worked on," Panes said …Upon harvest, bayanihan workers, again with free food, get a sack for every 15 sacks of palay harvest that they divide among themselves as their compensation.

Ismael Pasaporte, a Muslim member of the association, appeared bullish on the prospects of their organic palay farming. "This is much better than conventional farming because expenses are significantly reduced. Slowly I have paid my debts I owed to the financiers when I started adopting organic farming," said the 46 year-old farmer, who is now on his third organic farming cropping season. "Also, we're not also exposed to chemicals that are hazardous to the health," Pasaporte said….

Hundreds of Christians and Muslim residents partake the food worth at least P50,000 in separate tables at the compound of the Catholic Church here. It was the first time that the association sponsored such a huge feast, with the farmers saying it would have been impossible had they not resorted to organic farming.

(Similar projects led by INSIST are underway in Indonesia)
See also this backgrounder by Alan Tidwell 1 Nov 2011 on peace-building in Mindanao.

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