MANILA, JANUARY 4, 2008 (STAR) By Sosimo Ma. Pablico - Farmers in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) are slowly but surely etching a new image for this war-torn region as a palayamanan project guides them towards higher productivity and better attitudes.

The project is conducted by PhilRice (Philippine Rice Research Institute) and JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) with the collaboration of the ARMM Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Already, many of the farmers are earning much from vegetables after applying what they learned from a season-long farmers’ field school (FFS). In Barangay Sultan Kudarat, Pigcawayan, Shariff Kabunsuan, for instance, Abdul Gani Gandawari earned more than P21,000 in one season from okra, eggplant, squash, upo sitao, sweet pepper, and cucumber. Theng Lidasan also earned almost P19,000 from four vegetable crops planted in one-fourth hectare.

In Kadayonan, Balindong, Lanao del Sur, Ali Tomara harvested 120 cavans per hectare of a native rice variety called Tripoli or Batugan because he followed everything he learned from the FFS. For the first time, he was also able to sell more than P5,000 worth of vegetables. Much has also changed in his rice farming practices, like the use of a planting guide, which he made himself.

Likewise, former MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) combatants led by Taha B. Cabagatan, who carries the ancestral title Sultan Diamla of Pagalongan, have realized that their knowledge on agricultural technology “is not even at the kindergarten level.” With the new technology, Taha earned P24,000 from his rice crop in 2005. He added P4,000 to this amount and bought a carabao for draft purposes.

Although the project is the first of its kind to reach Sumangat Island in Bongao, Tawi-tawi, the farmers now plant more vegetables and produce their own seeds, a positive indication of sustainable application of the knowledge they learned and developed as well. Abubakar Misuara doubled his rice yield from a low 25 bags to 80 bags a hectare. His weekly income from bell pepper, banana and chili is now P3,000.

Almojir Hamsa of Pagasinan, Bongao got an all-time high income of P3,000 for 20 consecutive times every other day from vegetables in a limited area. He has become skillful in maximizing the use of his farm by aligning the plants with proper distance of planting . Trellises are well constructed and weeds are not visible. Ampalaya is his top grosser at P25 to P27 for three pieces in the public market.

In Sanga-sanga, Bongao, Anuar Bahary, an Indonesian who married a Filipina, earned P30,000 from 0.75 ha of vegetables as a result of seriously taking the FFS lessons by taking down notes religiously and internalizing all that he learned.

Municipal agriculturist Ibnur Bandahala expects Bongao to regain its former reputation as a veritable rice granary and vegetable bowl or even better than before the 30-year MNLF struggle from 1966 to 1996. He said Bongao would have a surplus of 50,000 to 70,000 bags per season if the former rice areas were opened again. And Bongao will no longer need to import rice from Malaysia.

In North Binanga, Talayan, Maguindanao, vegetable production has turned into a good source of income for the farmers. Samsodin Agcong, 31, for example, earned P32,000 from 700 hills of ampalaya, 1,000 hills of bell pepper, and 1,000 hills of eggplant.

Although the sight of their farms could be considered ordinary, one can’t escape admiring the farmers since they are just beginning to appreciate the value of commercial vegetable production. The farmers said that even without fish, they would still eat because they have rice and vegetables. They are also proud to say they now pay their electric bill unlike many other Muslim communities.

In Dapiawan, Ampatuan, Maguindanao, rice yields have also increased well beyond 100 bags a hectare and farmers have learned to plant vegetables much better as agricultural technologists handling the FFS continue to bombard them with new technologies. 

These farmers, though, are just a few of the ARMM palayamanan practitioners who are now etching a new image for this war-torn portion of the country.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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