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New Zealand Ambassador visits FAO project supporting displaced farmers in the Southern Philippines
New Zealand’s Ambassador to the Philippines, Reuben Levermore, has lauded FAO’s support to displaced farming communities in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in the Southern Philippines.
With funding from the Government of New Zealand, FAO has been restoring agricultural livelihoods in conflict- and flood-affected areas of ARMM by providing vital agricultural inputs and training to improve crop, livestock and fisheries production.
The Ambassador visited the project on 24 January 2014, accompanied by the acting FAO Representative in the Philippines, Rajendra Aryal, and local government officials. The event was hosted by farmers from Barangay Manulg Kaling, Municipality of Mamasapano, Mindanao Island.
Conflict and flooding displace and disrupt
Over the past decade, central Mindanao has experienced cycles of displacement as a result of recurring conflict between Moro insurgent groups and the Government of the Philippines. Flooding in 2011 further exacerbated already high levels of vulnerability, making life extremely challenging for the farmers and fishers in this region who had been unable to restart their livelihoods.
“Lack of inputs, limited capacity, minimal income-generating opportunities and increasing indebtedness make this a dire situation for farmers,” Rajendra Aryal, FAOR, said. “FAO support has been vital for these vulnerable communities.”
“I could hardly afford to grow rice because I had no seeds or tools and no money,” said Rahib Mamaluba, a farmer from Mamasapano with three children. “I had to borrow from moneylenders to continue farming, and the interest rates were really high.”
“With FAO providing us with seeds and fertilizer, we have had good harvests and can eat three times a day again, and I finally paid off all my debts,” said Mamaluba.
With funding from the Government of New Zealand, FAO partnered with the ARMM’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and in 2011 launched the project. Generous additional funding in 2012 and 2013 was made available, bringing the total budget to USD 2.76 million. This has enabled FAO to reach more than 100 000 internally displaced people (IDPs) with life-saving livelihood support.
“I am happy to see that the project continues to be so successful,” said Levermore. “The project is in excellent hands with the ARMM’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and, with the dedication and commitment of the FAO team here on the ground, I am confident it will continue to achieve the results it has so far managed to achieve,” he continued.
Support to date
The success of this project has pivoted on FAO’s strategy to support diversified agriculture and fisheries activities. A variety of key inputs have so far been distributed, from rice, corn and vegetable seeds, fruit trees, fertilizer and tools, to livestock such as goats and ducks, to fish cages, nets and tilapia fry.
Inputs were complemented by participatory, in-the-field training in the form of farmer field schools. This adult learning methodology, which puts local knowledge at the centre of the learning process, makes it possible for men and women to learn, discuss and test agricultural techniques with a view to developing their capacity.
FAO’s support has enabled farmers to increase agricultural production, generate vital income, improve the nutritional levels in their households, build resilience to future flooding and learn improved agricultural techniques.
The total reported number of IDPs in the region stands at more than 500 000, of which 80 percent are directly dependent on agriculture and fisheries for their livelihoods. FAO has so far supported 100 000 of these, but needs remain large among the remaining IDPs who have received little or no support from other organizations.
“Food security is human security, and human security is national security,” Aryal stressed. “By ensuring that conflict-affected people can rebuild their lives, we are doing our part for peace in the region.”
FAO has a key role to play in the long-term peace building initiatives in the region, which is set to gain full autonomy in March 2014. In addition to ensuring that communities can become self-reliant, FAO has been identified by the Bangsamoro development agency as the lead agency on agriculture and fisheries development once full autonomy is granted.