Swiss church aid brings smile, hope to Capiz, Iloilo farmers, fishermen

The Mindanao Examiner Regional Newspaper - - News - (Cebu Examiner and Task Force Mapalad)

CEBU - Thousands of Iloilo and Capiz rural workers composed of farmers, fishermen and micro-entrepreneurs thanked their Swiss partner for helping them improve and secure their access to land and livelihood and increase their resilience against natural disasters.

At the same time, the workers, all members of national peasant federation Task Force Mapalad (TFM), urged Philippine government agencies catering to the needs of the rural poor especially those living in disaster-prone areas, to carry on the efforts of the Swiss Interchurch Aid or HEKS (Hilfswerk der Evangelischen Kirchen Schweiz) in lying the ground towards a more sustainable and equitable future for Filipinos.

“As HEKS leaves us with a hope for a better, safer, and more fulfilling life, we now look forward to the Philippine government especially the Department of Agrarian Reform and the Department of Agriculture and other concerned agencies to commit itself in continuing what our Swiss partner started three years ago,” said Tfm-panay team leader Karen Tuason.

By the end of this year, HEKS will be concluding all its projects with TFM, its long-standing partner-organization, and leave the Philippines after four decades of extending help to the country so that it can focus on the pressing needs of other developing nations.

“HEKS helped us place ourselves on the right track. We earnestly hope that the Philippine government, under the Duterte administration, won’t detour from that track and fast-track our journey towards progress and prosperity,” said TFM farmer-leader Teresita Billonid.

Billonid, from Pilar, Capiz, is also the vice president of Panay Island Farmers’ Association.

Since 2006, HEKS has been helping TFM peasants and farmer-entrepreneurs in Mindanao in fighting poverty and landlessness and promoting social justice.

In December 2013, a month after Panay Island was hit by super typhoon Yolanda, HEKS extended its assistance to TFM farmers and fishermen in Capiz and Iloilo, which were identified by the World Bank in June 2013 as among the 23 Philippine provinces that were high risk for disaster.

Realizing that land tenure improvement was among the key factors in establishing stronger livelihood options for Yolanda victims, the HEKS in September 2014 extended its rehabilitation and disaster risk reduction efforts towards increasing the resilience of typhoon victims among landless households by improving their access to land.

HEKS-TFM in Panay campaign for the land rights of 1,260 farmers in 45 landholdings in the following five towns: San Dionisio and Carles in Iloilo and Pilar, Pontevedra, and Dao in Capiz covering a total area of 1,959 hectares.

In its three-year project with TFM in Panay, HEKS was able to meet the following objectives, among other targets:

- Rehabilitation, diversification and/or establishment of alternative livelihoods for a total of 1,778 small farmers, fishers, and seasonal workers who are now into integrated rice farming; integrated corn farming, diversified vegetable farming, animal raising, and improved, sustainable fishing;

- Development of business plans for small scale income generating activities by 602 micro-entrepreneurs who are currently engaged in buying and selling of fresh agricultural produce; retailing dry goods; food vending, transport business, and other skilled jobs;

- Training of 1,893 farmers and fishers in improved farming and fishing techniques, including 80 peasant-graduates of intensive farmers’ field schools; and training of 749 individuals in small-scale business management;

- Securing of land rights of 1,109 small farmers and improving the land tenure of 771 other peasants; awarding of farm inputs to 614 agrarian reform beneficiaries A(ARBS) to support the sustainability of their right to their land; 614 ARBS trained on farm planning, and 234 other farmers trained on new farming technologies;

But Tuason said that while TFM-HEKS had helped make farmers and fishers more resilient, a stronger safety net is needed from the Philippine government to ensure that what TFM-HEKS started will flourish and once and for all address the root causes of widespread and persistent rural poverty.

“Our farmers and fishers nourish us. We will go hungry without them. Thus, we have to give what’s due them. We have to make them happy and fulfilled. This can be done if the state will fulfill its mandate to uplift their lives and secure their future,” said Tuason.

Just last week,some 2,500 TFM farmers, fishermen, and micro-entrepreneurs welcomed various government agencies and educational institutions that had committed to carry on the initial success of TFM-HEKS initiative in Panay.

Representatives from government institutions attended the "Padayon sa Pagtindog: Pagtililipon Sang Mga Mangunguma Kag Mangingisda Sa Isla Sang Panay," held at the Villareal Stadium in Roxas City in Capiz.

Among them were from the Department of Agrarian Reform, Department of Agriculture, Land Bank of the Philippines; Department of Science and Technology; Philippine Coconut Authority; Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources; Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Social Welfare and Development, local disaster agencies; and Capiz State University, among others.

TFM stakeholders told the representatives that among their immediate needs to ensure continuous farm productivity were the following: access to finance; carabaos, fertilizer, quality of sugar cane points or patdan; tractors; corn shellers; trucks for hauling prouce; farm inputs; seeds; and farm-to-market roads.

Rosalina Bistoyong, DAR Undersecretary for Support Services, who also attended the event, welcomed the efforts of HEKS and TFM and said that she was open to augmenting the support services budget of the department’s provincial offices to support the needs of the stakeholders.

DAR Undersecretary Rosalina Bistoyong and Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer Felix Servidad (back) pick the biggest squash during a showcase of farmers and fishers’ produce recently at the Villareal Stadium in Roxas City. (Photo by Task Force Mapalad)

Floramie Gallardo, 58, of Dayhagan, Pilar Capiz, hold giant shells called “pius” during a showcase of farmers and fishermen produce recently at the Villareal Stadium in Roxas City. (Photo by Task Force Mapalad)

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