Enhancing Peace in ARMM by Increasing Agricultural Productivity
Peace in Muslim Mindanao has always been elusive. Besides political reasons, poverty among Muslims aggravates the conflict between the Muslim rebels and the government. To many of the rebels, winning the war that has been raging on for decades is their way of solving their poverty.
Their poverty, however, is not caused by landlessness as there is an abundance of land in Muslim Mindanao. Rather, it is caused by the lack of technology as well as poor motivation among Muslim farmers.
As noted by Sailila Abdula, a Muslim researcher at the Midsayap branch station of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), the continuing conflict is fueled by the Muslims’ aspiration for a better life as “most of the people are poor and basic social services are limited.”
“It is a basic fact that improved agricultural productivity is an essential factor in attaining lasting peace,” added Abdula. To improve the Muslim farmers’ productivity, they must be equipped with new farming knowledge and information through extensive training and education. At the same time, their capabilities to make rational decisions must be improved.
Against this backdrop, PhilRice and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) arrived at a technical cooperation project (TCP) intended to address problems on low agricultural productivity. The project started in February 2005 when JICA approved the implementation of a five-year project dubbed as Rice-Based Farming Systems and Support Program for the ARMM. It was the first technical cooperation project, labeled as TCP4, in the Philippines without a Japanese expert overseeing its implementation. Its overall goal was to increase farmers’ income and help attain household security that would eventually lead to the improvement of living standards in the farming communities in Maguindanao, Shariff Kabunsuan, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.
The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) leads the project’s implementation with PhilRice, state colleges and universities (SCUs), and other partner agencies providing technical support. The project coordinator comes from PhilRice, of course. Until lately, it was Abdula. Omar Abdul Kadil, a Muslim who has just finished his Master of Science degree, replaced Abdula, who now concentrates on research and development.
PhilRice has been updating the knowledge of ARMM agricultural technicians (ATs) through trainings on modern farming technologies and practices so that they would effectively provide quality technical services to the farmers. So far, 13 batches of ATs and field assistants (total of 272) have been trained on rice-based farming systems and vegetable production.
In addition, the ATs were brought to Ilocos Norte, Pangasinan, Benguet, and Nueva Ecija to expose them to the farming practices of Luzon farmers. “Such experience provided the ATs the opportunity to directly interact with Luzon farmers and strengthen the knowledge they learned from their training,” Abdula said.
In turn, the ATs conduct farmers’ field schools and establish Palayamanan model farms in farmers’ fields, as well as monitor and evaluate changes in the farmers’ crop production management practices.
Exactly 84 farmers’ field schools (FFS) have been conducted with 2,548 participants in rice production and 1,738 in vegetable production. Abdula noted that since farming in the ARMM is a family affair, the husbands attended the FFS on rice production, while the wives and children participated in the FFS on vegetable production.
The project has already established 22 Palayamanan model farms as follows: 6 in Maguindanao/ShariffKabunsuan, 4 in Lanao del Sur, 4 in Basilan, 4 in Sulu. and 4 in Tawi-Tawi. Shariff Kabunsuan province was still a part of Maguindanao province when the project started.
The project also provides support to the Pagkain Para sa Masa nursery of Dr. Edwin Honrade at the University of Southern Mindanao to sustain the production of quality crop seeds and livestock for TCP 4 beneficiaries. Dr. Honrade’s nursery serves as a central nursery for the production of seeds of corn, string beans, ampalaya, okra, patola, upo, and squash; planting materials of sweet potato, cassava and gabi: and ducks and goats for Palayamanan model farms and FFS.
In a span of less than four years, the Pagkain Para sa Masa nursery has provided vegetable seeds and planting materials of other crops to 7,712 farmers covered by TCP4. Animals dispersed to TCP4 farmer-beneficiaries were: goats. 30 heads; chicken, 80 heads: and ducks, 3,982 heads.
Two other nurseries are being maintained at the DAF-ARMMIARC or the ARMM Integrated Agriculture Research Center in Shariff Kabunsuan and PhilRice Midsayap as additional sources of seed and other planting materials.
To the delight of PhilRice and JICA, the project has already achieved much of its goals as shown by the results of a survey in July-September 2007, which determined the level of technology adoption, as well as its impact to production and farmers’ income. The survey covered 1,156 respondents or more than 60 percent of FFS participants from 2005 to 2006.
Almost all the respondents, 1,081 or 94 percent, were planting vegetables. Amazingly, 521 of them, or 48 percent, were engaged in commercial production, Abdula reported.
In general, almost all of the rice respondents (98 percent) adopted at least one technology introduced to them.
Upland farms. Abdula said majority of the upland farmers reported an increase in their rice yields. The highest rice-yield increase of 2 tons a hectare (t/ha) was recorded in Basilan, while the lowest, 0.025 t/ha, was in Lanao del Sur. Four upland farmers in Basilan never planted rice before the project, but they harvested 0.5-2 t/ha after the FFS training.
At least 80 percent of the upland farmers experienced an increase in their rice
yields as follows: Maguindanao, 80.6 percent: Lanao del Sur, 82.9 percent; Basilan, 100 percent; Sulu, 92.2 percent; and Tawi-Tawi, 81 percent.
Yield increases, however, varied very sharply as follows: Maguindanao, 0.065 t/ha-1.26 t/ha; Lanao del Sur, 0.025 t/ha-0.65 t/ha; Basilan, 0.5 t/ha2.0 t/ha; Sulu, 0.05 t./ha-0.65 t/ha; and Tawi-Tawi, 0.05 t/ha-0.5 t/ha.
Although Tawi-Tawi upland farmers recorded a slight decrease in their average yields (0.05 t/ha), Abdula said all others improved. Maguindanao upland farmers registered the highest average yield at 2.48 t/ha with an average increase of 0.24 t/ha after the FFS.
Rainfed farms. In the rainfed farms, all the 113 farmers interviewed in Sulu declared an increase in yield, 89.3 percent in Lanao del Sur (0.09 t/ha-1.5 t/ha), 83.3 percent in Maguindanao (0.11 t/ha-1.38 t/ha), and 60.9 percent in Basilan (0.21 t/ha-0.75 t/ha. However, 35 percent of Basilan farmers declared a decrease in yield with an average of 0.1 t/ha.
Maguindanao and Sulu rainfed farmers recorded the highest average yield increase of 0.6 t/ha, followed by Lanao del Sur (0.4 t/ha), and Tawi-Tawi (0.3 t/ ha). Maguindanao also had the highest average yield of 3.8 t/ha, followed by Lanao del Sur (2.8 t/ha), and Sulu (2.7 t/ha). The average yield in Tawi-Tawi before the FFS was 0.8 t/ha.
Irrigated lowlands. In the irrigated lowlands after the FFS, all the 30 farmers in Sulu had increased yields ranging from 0.125 t/ha to 0.46 t/ha. They were followed by 93 percent of the 359 farmers in Maguindanao who registered a yield increase of 0.06 t/ha1.95 t/ha, 93 percent of 12 Lanao del Sur farmers with 0.3 t/ha-1.25 t/ha, and 83 percent of 41 Basilan farmers with 0.2 t/ha-2.5 t/ha.
Maguindanao irrigated lowland farmers recorded the highest average yield
(3.8 t/ha) and average yield increase (0.6 t/ha) after the FFS. They were followed by Lanao del Sur farmers who registered an average yield of 3.3 t/ha and an average yield increase of 0.5 t/ ha. Although Basilan and Sulu had an identical average yield increase of 0.3 t/ha, Basilan farmers had a higher average yield of 2.6 t/ha, while Sulu farmers had only 1.1 t/ha.
In vegetable production, ampalaya, string beans, squash, upo, okra, tomato, cucumber, and pechay are now commonly grown by Muslim farmers. The three most popular crops are eggplant, string beans, and ampalaya, which are common ingredients in Muslim dishes. On the average, vegetable farms are less than a hectare in size, mostly in the upland areas.
In general, the vegetable technologies most preferred and practiced by the farmers are trellising or staking, integrated nutrient management, crop establishment, integrated pest management, planting distance, and crop care.
According to Abdula, almost all (99 percent) farmers interviewed achieved
vegetable self-sufficiency after the FFS. Almost half (45 percent) sold their extra produce with an average annual income of P6,925. Tawi-Tawi farmers recorded the highest annual income of P10,334, while Sulu farmers had the lowest at P2,642.
“These farmers are motivated to produce vegetables because it does not only provide them with food but also capital for rice farming, which is their major source of income,” he said.
The ultimate measure of project impact. however, is whether or not the total income of the farmers has increased. This is very clear in the TCP4 project sites.
From an average annual family income of 835,620 before the project, TCP4 farmer-beneficiaries are now getting an average annual income of P51,540. This means that their annual income has increased by almost P16,000.
In general, the increased income provided funds for rice farming, generated some savings, and improved the living condition of farmers. Hence, it can be said that TCP4 has indeed enhanced peace in the ARMM through increased agricultural productivity.