Marawi evacuees learn the hardships of farming

By Rose de la Cruz 

From the comfort of their lands in Marawi, some of the evacuees of the strife-torn Ground Zero city are now discovering how difficult it is to till the land for their subsistence and eventual affluence if they persist on doing so. 

Even a thin and fragile- looking lady of 103 years old, continues to try learning different farming methods from what she grew up with in rice and root crops when she “graduated” recently from the two-month Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan (KSK) program of SM Foundation Inc. and Harbest Agriculture of Toto Barcelona at Balo-I Lanao del Norte. She had with her in the training program her children who are now nearing senior citizen status but are actively farming also. 

Some of the evacuees obviously came from affluence-- judging by their possessions like foreign signature bags, their good skin (which was minimally damaged by exposure to sun and soil) and professionals (like a teacher who had his only daughter studying in a university in Iligan City where they also owned a house and farm). 

They stared at poverty in the eye when they evacuated to Iligan and Lanao del Norte and depended solely on the generosity of government and donor agencies.

Undoubtedly, many of the “graduates” came from humble origins and different religions (Christians and Muslims) brought together (previously hostile to each other) in one evacuation center and were forced to learn new skills together. Their graduation recently showed just how old wounds and discriminations can be reduced, if not completely erased. 

The ‘graduates’ (evacuees) from the city proper most of whom were used to the good pampered life of the landed gentry, were taught high value crops farming by SMFI in partnership with Harbest Agriculture (headed by Toto Barcelona) for two months but could not harvest their fruits of labor as the day-long rain did not allow them. 

But they had an all-day fun from the games and food shared by SMFI and the inspiring talks of the local government officials of Lanao del Norte led by Gov. Imelda Quibranza Dimaporo and her husband Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo, Balo-I Municipal Mayor Elias Ali and Rep. Al Ariel Mangata of Lanao del Sur along with SMFI Director for Livelihood Cristy Angeles and Barcelona gave them, all urging them to “move on” with their lives and not depend on other people for their subsistence. 

They planted marketable (and in- demand) crops like lettuce, bell pepper, okra, eggplants, honey dew melon, water melon and several others that their families could eat and they could earn from once sold in the markets. 

They were urged by SMFI Director for Livelihood (through the Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan program) to be mentors and propagators of “balik-farming” in Marawi City so that their recovery process will be shortened and they would not have a dole-out mindset.

 The 250 graduates expressed gratitude to SMFI and the local officials for providing them the opportunity to learn another source of income (outside of planting rice, corn and rootcrops and depending on the bounty of the sea) through the 500 sq.m. techno pilot farm (lent by Gov. Dimaporo) and from SMFI the funding for the project with the seeds bought from Harbest Agriculture. The DA municipal office also provided technical support for planting.

 This farming program will also be replicated eventually in Ground Zero later February, as soon as the military clears the area for the residents to return to their properties. 

Rep. Dimaporo told the graduates that when their production is more than enough to meet their personal and neighbors’ needs, they can form a cooperative so that they can sell to retail outlets like the SM mall in Cagayan de Oro City, some two hours away from their lands. 

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