Bringing hope to conflict-vulnerable communities in Mindanao through agricultural extension

An alternative agricultural extension model has been giving a ray of hope to six conflict-vulnerable, geographically isolated, and disadvantaged communities in South Cotabato, Maguindanao, and Zamboanga Sibugay.

 This was the highlight of the paper, “Giving Farmers Uwen Fananafedew: Improving Agricultural Extension Policy in Conflict-Vulnerable Areas through the Livelihood Improvement through Facilitated Extension (LIFE) Model,” which was implemented by the team of Dr. Emma Ruth V. Bayogan of the University of the Philippines Mindanao.

The paper features the outcomes of the LIFE Model developed by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) Mindanao Agricultural Extension Project (AMAEP), which was funded by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PCAARRD).

This was presented during the National Symposium on Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (NSAARRD) and was awarded first place or Best R&D Paper (Development Category) during the DOST-PCAARRD S&T Awards and Recognition ceremony held on November 29, 2021.

Spearheaded by DOST-PCAARRD, NSAARRD recognizes outstanding contributions in the agriculture, aquatic, and natural resources sector in the country.

The LIFE Model

Mindanao contributes more than 40% of the country’s food requirement and 30% to the national food trade. Yet, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority, four out of five of the poorest regions in the Philippines are in Mindanao: Region IX (Zamboanga Peninsula), Region X (Northern Mindanao), Region XII (SOCCSKSARGEN), and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARRM).

Consequently, violent conflicts also inflict heavy economic losses and other effects on farming communities in Mindanao. The Food and Agriculture Organization reported in 2019 that armed encounters in rural areas resulted in disruption of food production and transportation systems, destruction of farm assets and capital, and undermined income-generating activities and occupations. Armed encounters also prevented and discouraged farming due to security concerns and in some cases, young men were enticed to fight, diverting their attention away from farm work.

Hence, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University in Melbourne, the Landcare Foundation of the Philippines Inc (LFPI), University of the Philippines Mindanao (UPM), University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), and DOST-PCAARRD initiated an agro-enterprise development program hinged on facilitating farmers’ access to technical innovations, building community social capital, and collaborating effectively with local institutions through facilitated extension, hence the LIFE Model.

LIFE Model aims at establishing improved, sustainable, and resilient community-based livelihoods for the conflict-vulnerable areas in Mindanao. The project started in 2013 in three sites (Zamboanga Sibugay, Maguindanao, and South Cotabato) and expanded to 10 sites in 2017 through the “Enhancing Livelihood Opportunities in Conflict-Vulnerable Areas in Mindanao through the LIFE Model” program.

A ray of hope for the conflict-vulnerable communities

According to Dr. Bayogan, the implementation of the LIFE Model helped improve farmers’ social capital as evidenced by their formation of farmers’ organizations, development of trust and closer bonds with each other, and increased networks and participation in community activities.

South Cotabato and Maguindanao farmers learned to grow vegetables while Zamboanga Sibugay farmers improved their knowledge and skills on seaweed farming. Zamboanga Sibugay farmers grew eggplant and tomato in containers. Through the Farmers’ Field School, farmers also improved their organizational skills. The program and the partner agencies provided various trainings according to farmers’ needs.

Bayogan reported that vegetable production provided additional income (with increases from 31% to 89%) to the farmers while securing food for their household. Some farmers also diversified further their sources of livelihood to include production of handicrafts, banana chips, taro and seaweeds crackers, and tilapia and livestock raising.

The LIFE model also provides both tangible and intangible benefits to the farmers. Bayogan reported that farmers have improved their self-confidence as they are now able to share their knowledge from the Farmers’ Field School trainings with co-farmers and relatives in neighboring communities. Also, waste management has improved as farmers partnered with the local government units. There have also been improvements in knowledge and use of technology taught to farmers.

Addressing food security during COVID-19

The spirit of “bayanihan” or the act of helping each other out in a community is one of the benefits of the LIFE Model. Such spirit helped many conflict-vulnerable communities cope with the challenges brought about by COVID19 pandemic.

Since farmers and their families have a continuous supply of vegetables from their farms, they were able to donate their extra vegetables to their community members. In addition, the program facilitated the distribution of relief packs containing rice, vegetable seeds, dry fish, and vegetables to other farmers.

The livelihood activities also continued, seedlings were brought for initial seaweed production, and handicraft production continued. All of these helped farmers cope during the pandemic.

LIFE Model: A promising approach to improving agricultural extension delivery

The LIFE model provides a promising approach to improving agricultural extension delivery in farming communities, especially in conflict-vulnerable areas.

The emphasis on building community social capital proves effective in embarking on any livelihood activity and introduction of technology, resulting in an increase in their incomes and livelihood diversification, and facilitating the development of a peaceful and secure agriculture, aquatic and natural resources community (Paul Jersey G. Leron, DOST-PCAARRD S&T Media Services).