Thursday, 3 December 2009

‘Bayan-anihan’ helps poor Filipinos be food-sufficient

Rizal Raoul Reyes
Business Mirror
http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/component/content/article/53-agri-commodities/19224-bayan-anihan-helps-poor-filipinos-be-food-sufficient.html

DURING the campaign season, politicians from every political spectrum will profess their love for the hampas-lupa (landless or downtrodden).

However, Gawad Kalinga has been ahead in championing the welfare of the hampas-lupa through their advocacy, which goes national by the end of 2009. The program will roll over 300 additional farms in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, according to Gawad Kalinga chairman Antonio Meloto.

At present, there are 107 Bayan-anihan farms established in Luzon that have harvested more than 66 metric tons of vegetables, feeding over 17,000 Filipinos.

The over 100 farms utilized an estimated 5 hectares of land, which is only 0.0001 percent of the total arable land in the Philippines, according to 2007 figures compiled by the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics, an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture.

According to Meloto, Gawad Kalinga is aiming for sustainability through the Bayan-anihan program, which takes care of the food component.

In a recent media briefing, Meloto said Bayan-anihan teaches marginalized Filipinos to be productive members of society by encouraging them to produce their own food.

“We want to uplift the status of the hampas-lupa to enable them to have a better future,” said Meloto.

Recalling his younger years in Bacolod, Meloto said he saw how the hampas lupa, the sacada, in Negros used to sleep on the ground after working in the sugar-cane fields.

The land problem, according to Meloto, continues to haunt the marginalized as they are forced to live in squatter colonies in subhuman conditions.

“Because he does not have the capability to own a piece of land, the landless individual continues to be a hampas-lupa wherever he goes,” said Meloto.

Meloto said that the fight against poverty needs to be placed on the high list, citing that “most Filipinos are not aware that hunger is a very big issue in the Philippines.”

“It is a huge problem as shown in a third-quarter survey of the Social Weather Stations Inc., with 17.6 percent of Filipino households experiencing involuntary hunger. That is an estimated 3.2 million families. With over 1.5 million families affected by Ondoy and Pepeng, these numbers will continue to worsen and will keep the Philippines’ hunger numbers in double digits for the sixth year. It is no surprise that the Philippines was ranked as the fifth-hungriest country in the world in the 2008 World Hunger Survey by Gallup International,” said Bayan-anihan in its information sheet.

Through Gawad Kalinga and Bayan-anihan, Meloto said they want to prove to the country that rural folks don’t need to go to Metro Manila because there is a future in the countryside.

“We want to pursue a reverse-migration policy and help the country attain sustainable development,” he said.

Bayan-anihan, moving under Gawad Kalinga’s direction, has crafted 10- square-meter farming models under its hunger eradication program. The road map includes small-scale commercial farming integrated farming and establishment of cooperatives.

Meloto said this program will develop a culture of productivity, from reliance to self-sufficiency.

“This is part of changing the cultural mindset of the Filipinos to become self-reliant,” he said.

Bayan-anihan’s farming model is family-based because each family is given a 10-square-meter plot of land where they can farm and are equipped with the necessary tools like weighing scales, vegetable seeds and seedlings, and organic fertilizers. Each plot can yield a minimum of 10 kilograms of vegetables per month, good enough for 30 meals per family.

The beneficiaries are also provided with training programs, seminars and community-building campaigns which allow them to learn proper methods of farming, gain information on nutrition, gain culinary skills, and take part in a community which recognizes the hard work that they are able to put into their fields.

To facilitate replanting, Bayan-anihan farms use open pollinated seeds that can self-generate for the next planting cycle versus hybrid seeds.

Vegetables and fruits grown by Bayan-anihan are organic. Chemical pesticides are never used. A composting pit will even be set up in each farm to produce its own organic fertilizer.

A study funded by the European Union found that organic fruit and vegetables contain up to 40 percent more antioxidants than conventional equivalents. Called Quality Low Input Food Research, it takes only five months from community qualification to full harvest, a mere 20 weeks of converting a community from reliance to self-sufficiency.

To make the program more formidable, he said Bayan-anihan has formed partnerships from different sectors to implement these programs. At present, Bayan-anihan has partnered with 50 corporations and individuals, over 100 local government officials, more than 80 agricultural universities, and 2,000 students.

Meloto said Bayan-anihan’s partnership with some corporations has gone beyond the adoption of farms. For instance, Del Monte has created “Goodbye Gutom” recipes to encourage mothers to cook their vegetables in new ways. Shell has committed to championing the composting technology.

Bayan-anihan is an integral part of post-Ondoy rebuilding efforts of partner corporations such as Globe’s Bangon Pinoy and Smart’s Ahon Norte.

Meloto said the important role of the Department of Agriculture (DA) through Sec. Arthur Yap as a founding partner of Bayan-anihan. The DA is providing farm inputs such as seeds and fertilizers.

Sustainability is another important element in the antipoverty campaign of Bayan-anihan. It has deployed a full force of volunteer faculty and agricultural students from over 80 agricultural schools and universities who conduct trainings to communities and monitor the farms.

Although she belongs to a prominent family, Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski said farming is one of her hobbies. She didn’t think twice when Gawad Kalinga asked her to be one of the warriors in the fight against hunger.

Cojuangco-Jaworski recalled that she learned of the significance of Bayan-anihan when she watched one of the videos during the GK 1MB (Isang Milyong Bayani) Summit, where a man’s life was completely changed after he was given a home and a 10-square-meter plot of land where he can plant vegetables for his family to eat.

“I was so touched by it, not only because of how it enriched their lives and changed Mang Antero’s [the man featured] outlook about himself, but because, just like the homes of GK, Bayan-anihan is another very tangible, realistic, attainable way of making our lives better. So it immediately struck me.”

After her encounter with the Bayan-anihan farms in the aftermath of Ondoy and Pepeng, Cojuangco-Jaworski realized that a family values more its output when they worked hard for it. “When we know we’ve achieved something with our effort, we’ll make the most of it. We’ll maintain it and make sure that it’s used to its full potential,” she said.

“After all these disasters, we see these people bonding together and getting back on their feet as one instead of pointing fingers at each other. Aside from the bayanihan spirit being even more alive, they went on restoring what has been lost because they know they are able to do it, because they’ve done it before. They can help themselves because they already have the knowledge and skills,” she added.

She said farming taught her the values of persistence and determination, especially when the plants she planted died. Failures according to Cojuangco-Jaworski, taught her to learn the proper ways of farming and planting. To make her knowledgeable, she studied topography, irrigation and related topics. By following the right steps, Cojuangco-Jaworski said she was able to maintain an herb garden and a farm for vegetables and fruit trees where she grows her favorite organic produce.

“Agriculture and farming are best examples of using our knowledge that fits or is in harmony with the natural order of things. In this field, if you practice what you learn, definitely and literally, you will harvest something and you can help improve the lives of others,” she said.

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