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Why Oxfam is ‘giving more attention’ to only 3 Mindanao regions

ROMY ELUSFA, GMANews.TV
07/18/2008 | 05:24 PM

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — “An alarming proportion” of poverty and violent conflict confronting the people of three regions of Mindanao are the main factors that made three overseas development agencies to focus their peace and development efforts in these areas.


“Between 1988 and 2006, poverty has increased at alarming proportions” in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM,) Central Mindanao (Region 12) and Caraga (Region 13), said a briefing paper of the Joint Oxfam Program (JOP), which was launched at the Apo View Hotel in this city July 16.

From a study it did, the JOP, which pooled together the resources and efforts of Oxfam Great Britain (OGB), Oxfam Hong Kong (OHK) and Oxfam Novib ON), noted that “the poverty incidence rate for households was registered as highest in 2003 in Caraga (47.1%), and ARMM (45.4%), nearly double the national average of 24.4%. On top of this, ARMM and Region 12 had experienced continuing episodes of armed conflict, resulting in huge humanitarian and economic losses. Needless to say, women suffered more than men from poverty and carried the burden of male-dominated decisions and actions in times of war.”

“Despite its natural endowments,” JOP said that “Mindanao could not afford decent livelihoods for its residents” because the “majority of the poor (two for every three) are found in rural areas, subsisting in agriculture.

JOP deduced from its study that “locals in the countryside compete more now compared to any other time, for finite land resources, prompting among others, the problem of landlessness. Many women in agriculture are reported landless, rendering unpaid labor.”

Half of Mindanao’s four million hectares of farm lands is reportedly planted to rice and corn with the largest granaries located in Region 12. Yet, small rice and corn farmers complain of losses because of the high cost of production dependent on chemical-based inputs, the study said.

Compounding the peasants’ problems, JOP said that “these farmers have to confront new challenges triggered by climate change like long periods of drought usually followed by infestation,” not counting the “massive conversion of rice and corn lands into high-value commercial crops like banana, pineapple and asparagus.”

Other high-potential cash crops like abaca, coffee, mango and rubber remain largely underdeveloped because “small farmer-to-market linkages remain practically absent. The coffee sector demonstrates this clearly,” the JOP study shows.

While Mindanao produces about three-fourths of national coffee output, coffee hectarage in Caraga has dramatically declined by 40% between 2000 and 2003. “Farmers have no incentives to continue growing coffee,” said the JOP documents which formed part of the briefing paper at the launch participated in by around over 50 representatives of Civil Society Organizations.

Meanwhile, abaca maintains its dismal yield per hectare of less than 1 MT per hectare. Most of the abaca farms located in ARMM and Caraga, covering “16,262 hectares or 55% of Mindanao’s total, remain stagnant.”

Municipal fishery, JOP’s study showed, is characterized by “low return on investments, leaving eight out of 10 municipal fishers in Mindanao poor as of 2006. Only 16% of the total national fisheries output (almost one million MT of fishes and other marine products as of 2001), could be attributed to this sector.

Compounding the problem is illegal logging, the study showed. “Dependent to Mindanao’s vast forest resources bear the brunt today of many years of illegal logging, rampant largely in Caraga.”

The study cited Agusan del Sur, the poorest of five provinces in Caraga, where 76% of the land area is classified as forest, only 2.4% is considered today as old growth forest.

Unfortunately, the “logging” mentality pervades most people and “even community-based groups” have been awarded with tree plantation contracts, which the study said has “canceled out sustainable forest management and agro-forestry as viable strategies to meet the income needs of upland dwellers.”

Against this depressing outlook for rural livelihoods in Mindanao, the JOP believed that “the national government’s response regrettably fails to inspire.”

It mentioned that the Arroyo administration, in June 2004, included in its 10-point national program the development of two million hectares for agribusiness, with Mindanao singled out to be the main agro-forestry and export zone. “This brings to fore the issue of food security,” JOP said while noting the “aggressive push of late by government for bio-fuels signaled further reduction of the area planted to food crops in the region.”

The study showed that the government’s “unfinished business in agrarian reform” and its promotion of mining have also added more blows against the small farmers.

The land reform program “conveniently excluded private agriculture lands 50 hectares and above” while having multiple tenurial instruments also led to “competing claims to land.”

It noted that the P.D. 705 (Revised Forestry Code of 1975), an “outmoded” law, as government’s mantle, “even though new policy settings such as the NIPAS Act of 1992 and the IPRA of 1997 exist.”

“As a final strike, the government heavily promotes mining to attract foreign investments in the Philippines, most especially in Caraga. Of the 10 primary mining sites prioritized by government, five are in Caraga. Generous incentives have been introduced such as faster processing of applications and liberalizing the certification criteria and procedures to entice interest in mining. Ultimately, what this suggests is that government is relentless to spur economic growth, even without due consideration for equity and the environment. Sadly, in scenarios like this, the poor, most especially women and children, will be affected the most,” the study said.

An important concluding note in the study stressed on the “effects of the delay on the completion of the peace process in Mindanao, something that the Arroyo administration also committed to do in 2004. Past violent conflicts occurred at great cost and in the economic sense alone, the loss has been pegged at 10-billion pesos from 1975 to 2002.”

The already 11 years peace talks between the government and the MILF Moro Islamic Liberation Front has yet to resume after it was stalled since December last year.

Felipe Ramiro Jr., Joint Oxfam Mindanao program coordinator said that while Oxfan has already worked in peace building efforts before in partnership with organizations like the Bantay Ceasefire, they are now looking at “scaling up the different peace initiatives towards a more integrated approach towards peace-building.”

Henk Peters, program officer of ON and Frank Elvey of OHK still could not provide a figure on how much would they be spending for their joint project in Mindanao, though they said that the bulk of their $6-million fund for the country would be spent in Southern Philippines. Elvey said “it is not a fix but a developing amount” and Peters added that “we will still try to mobilize additional funds from others. We are giving more attention now than we did before to Mindanao.”

Peters said their program includes advocacy work that their partner organizations may undertake to “try to influence government to come up with policies that are more responsive to the needs of the poor.”

The focus of the policy advocacy, Ramiro said would be “towards agriculture. I guess it is important to ensure access of Lumads to their lands so they will be able to come up with viable plans on developing their ancestral domain.”

Ramiro said they poured in the bulk of their funds to Mindanao because “poverty is greatest in Mindanao and is exacerbated by conflicts.” GMANews.TV

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