EMPOWERING MARGINALIZED PEOPLE THROUGH SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE
In 2005, the Social Action Center-Justice and Peace (SAC-JP) of the Diocese of Butuan engaged in a program they hoped would facilitate social transformation and poverty alleviation initiatives. Little did they realize the tremendous contribution the program would have in the lives of hundreds of marginalized and resource-poor farmers after two years of implementation.
With integral social transformation towards total human development as its guiding principle, SAC-JP Butuan joined the nine other dioceses in the second batch of NASSA’s Empowering Marginalized Sectors through the BEC-Based Integral Evangelization Program.
SAC-JP focused on raising the awareness of its BEC members on important areas susch as Catholic Social Teachings, human rights, political education, sustainable agriculture (SA), environment/ecology, microfinance and community-based health.
SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE AS A KEY COMPONENT
Among other important areas, it was sustainable agriculture that stirred the interest of most of the BEC members since majority of the population are farmers and Butuan’s climate and topography is suited to agriculture.
Since 2002, SAC-JP has been promoting SA as part of its strategies for poverty alleviation and social transformation. SA principles and practices are holistic and promote food and livelihood security for the farmer and his family. At the same time, it gives importance to the environment protection and the advocacy on farmer’s rights.
Under the BEC-Based Integral Evangelization Program, the farmers’ agricultural productivity increased while external nutritional dependency decreased by as much as 20 percent. This is attributed to the growing awareness and knowledge of farmers on various SA practices as a result of trainings conducted by SAC-JP Butuan on organic farming, backyard vegetable gardening, livestock raising, multiple-cropping, rice-fish culture and other Diversified and Integrated Organic Farming Systems (DIOFS).
With the help of the program, 400 BEC members were able to access credit facilities that support their need for farm implements, farm animals and marketing.
Livelihood and financial assistance components: Swine-Raising, Production Assistance Program and Carabao dispersal.
Women members of the BECs play an important role in the socio-economic aspects of the program. Using micro-credit schemes, women beneficiaries are provided funds that they can use in buying swine for fattening and dispersal. SAC-JP Butuan through NASSA’s BEC Based Program provides support in the form of loans and distribution of farming implements, but the overall management-its distribution and repayment is handled by the BEC. Payments including its 2 percent interest or the equivalent in number of piglets that is collected by the BEC will be distributed to other members who have not yet availed of the loan.
Swine-raising under the program uses Natural Farming Technology System (NFST) which is one of the accepted practices under SA. In this system, women swine raisers are encouraged to make use of organic feeds through fermentation techniques and design pigpens utilizing indigenous materials and methods.
On the other hand, the Production Assistance Program (PAP) enables the BEC farmer’s organization to replicate organic rice farming in the fields of other farmers. It also frees farmers from the cycle of debt that enchained them during their excessive use of external inputs. Three out of ten BECs were provided assistance using this funding scheme.
SAC-JP Butuan also provides loan assistance to BEC members in the form of carabaos and its accompanying farm implements (plow and harrow). Each BEC from the five pilot parishes, gets two carabaos which they will assign to two of their members. Usually, the first two who qualify to avail of the carabaos were chosen by the BEC because they were considered to be the most committed BEC member and implementor of SA technologies and with solid financial credibility. The carabaos’ offspring will then be dispersed to other BEC members until everyone has availed of the same.
MARKETING SUPPORT ON ORGANIC PRODUCTS
Usually the most challenging part in sustainable agriculture is the marketing of organic products, given that farmers lack the skills and patience in dealing with traders and looking for markets of their produce. In the NASSA BEC Program, however, this challenge is being addressed with the provision of marketing assistance for the parishes of the BECs in the form of capital. The parishes manage the funds and devise a strategy to market the organic products of the BECs. In some cases, the parish directly sells the products such as organic rice to its parishioners and partner establishments.
The program also conducted trainings on community-based marketing to members of the BECs to develop their capacity on product handling and marketing of their organic products. Hopefully, in the future with these trainings, the BECs and their farmers will be the one directly engaging in marketing their products.
OTHER COMPONENTS UNDER THE BEC-BASED PROGRAM
The introduction of sustainable agriculture technologies has made it easier for the SAC-JP to promote other key areas under the program
Community-based healthcare. A Botika sa Parokya (parish pharmacy) was established in each of the five parishes. These pharmacies promote the use of generic drugs and herbal medecines at very affordable prices. Some of the pharmacies also offer acupuncture and acupressure services.
Environment and ecology protection. The diocese has an ongoing campaign against mining operations in Tubay, Butuan. With the support of BEC members and other groups, various for a, press conferences and mass actions were conducted in the campaign against mining operations. These actions have pressured concerned government agencies to release an order of cessation of mining operations. The struggle will continue until the mining company heeds the other.
Good governance, peacebuilding and gender sensitivity trainings were also conducted to develop the capacity of BEC members. These trainings enabled members to participate actively in village Local Development Councils (LDCs), engage in initiatives toward peacebuilding and act as vanguards against corruption by demanding transparency on the use of the Internal Revenue Allotments (IRA) of local government officials.
Reference: National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace Annual Report 2007, p27-29