From Arms to Farms (Walking through the Paths of Peace, the Kauswagan Experience)
Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte
The municipality of Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte has been at the receiving end of large scale death and destruction for several decades due to armed clashes between warring forces—between the Blackshirts (Maranao fanatics) and the Ilagas (Christian fanatics) in the early 70s and between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and government armed forces as recent as in 2008.
As a result, Kauswagan is ranked among the municipalities with a high poverty incidence rate—as high as 79%, in 2009. Massive displacement and dislocation of communities led to deterioration in health, education and economic measures. Worse, the situation created an atmosphere of mistrust between the Muslims and the Christians.
A change in the local leadership in 2010 brought with it much needed local reforms. The new LGU leadership began to implement a participatory approach in the governance of the municipality as a means to entice rebels to return to the fold of the law.
The municipal LGU began pursuing the program “From Arms to Farms.” Peace building measures such as Peacepath workshops were pursued in collaboration with the communities and with the assistance of local NGOs and POs and even the religious foundations. Even the military helped in organizing the rebel returnees into socio-economic associations.
Project planning, budgeting, monitoring and evaluation was done through a bottom-up approach, with the communities and rebel returnees identifying projects and activities that are relevant to their needs. The Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) financed some of the programs and activities identified by the communities, and helped train the farmers in organic farming methods. The new LGU approach led to a 40% improvement in farmer incomes.
Within two years, more MILF rebels began to participate in the socio-economic activities. Four MILF commanders and 100 of their men returned to the fold of the government, laid down their arms and reemerged as farm entrepreneurs in organic farming. They planted various crops, raised livestock and managed fishponds. Pretty soon, these former rebels were earning good incomes. At present, there are nine commanders participating in the program.
The positive impact of the program is quite evident. Poverty incidence decreased from 79% in 2009 to 47.5% in 2013. The peace and order situation also improved; the guns and cannons became silent, and crimes such as cattle rustling were eradicated.
A significant contribution of the program was cultivating entrepreneurship among the farmers and rebel returnees. The LGU provides an initial capitalization assistance to the rebel returnees under a cost recovery scheme. The funds are paid back without interest by the rebel returnees as soon as they have gained enough economic power. This way, the assistance can be rolled-out to other farmers, fisherfolk and rebel returnees. This also ensures the sustainability of the program.
Education and training played a vital role in enhancing the capacities of the farmers. It improved the confidence of the younger generation to engage in farming entrepreneurship. So much so, that there was a noticeable increase in the scholarship beneficiaries and enrolment in the Doña Laureana School for Practical Agriculture in the municipality. The school is a product of the Public-Private Partnership for Justice, Peace and Development between the LGU and the Assisi Development Foundation, Inc. The school introduced methodologies that encouraged the students to pursue entrepreneurial farming through organic agriculture. The school training reshaped the thinking of the MILF rebel returnees and convinced them to pursue organic farming.
LGUs from other cities and municipalities have begun visiting Kauswagan to learn how the significant changes and transformations brought about peace and bridged the gap that divided the Christians and Muslims. Many of the visitors also want to know how the program increased incomes and reduced poverty. The answer lies in the commitment and perseverance of the LGU in ensuring community participation in all the aspects, from project conceptualization, through implementation, and up to monitoring and evaluation. The approach is simple but it requires patience and perseverance.