Hillylands Green Rehabilitation and Livelihood (Hi-Green): An Anti-Poverty Program
Zamboanga del Norte was ranked as the poorest province in the country in the 2003 Family Income and Expenditure Survey according to the National Statistical Coordination Board.
This prompted the provincial government to conduct a poverty mapping activity to identify who the poor people are, where they are living and why they are poor. The mapping showed that the poor are engaged in agriculture and forestry. The LGU also found out that 58.55 percent of its hilly lands are already bereft of forest cover. This has increased the vulnerability of communities to multiple hazards like landslides and flash floods. Further, it was learned that productivity in the uplands was dropping by ten percent annually due to rapid soil degradation.
Because of these findings, the provincial government embarked on a multi-sectoral, anti-poverty project in cooperation with the\LGUs of six municipalities and the Department of Agrarian Reform-Western Mindanao Community Initiative Project (DAR-WMCIP) to reduce poverty by increasing farm production and income. The project was successfully implemented in upland areas. When the partnership with the DAR-WMCIP ended, the provincial government continued to implement the program with the cooperation of the other stakeholders. They called it the Hillylands Green Rehabilitation and Livelihood Program (Hi-Green) which was launched in December 2005.
The Hi-Green program is anchored on harnessing the communities’ assistance towards achieving the LGU’s objectives—re-greening the barren hillylands, increasing farm productivity through crop diversification, providing opportunities to increase household income, and ensuring food security in the barangay. To pursue these objectives, the program employs the following strategies: establishment of a community-managed farm facility; maximization of community participation; provision of technical assistance; and provision of livelihood opportunities.
At the very start of the Hi-Green Program implementation, the LGU ensured the participation of the communities by holding a consultative assembly, where the people themselves identified their needs and what projects they would want to be engaged in to address their prevailing socio-economic and environmental problems. The program was also presented in barangay sessions for validation. Subsequently, the barangays manifested their willingness to participate in the program through a resolution. After which, the community started farm planning, which included site selection for their 7-hectare farm facility and crop prioritization.
Under the Hi-Green program, the community contributes labor in the construction of project structures such as perimeter fences, poultry cages, and nurseries. The community gives monetary worth to the number of hours rendered by each household and payment takes the form of seedlings, vegetables, and fish raised in the farm facility. In 2006, farms in the lowland areas were included in the program.
Hi-Green incorporates trainings and seminars. Deployed field technicians conduct regular farmer classes based on the needs of the barangay, with topics ranging from organizational strengthening, technical reviews, resource scanning, marketing prospects, product processing, and even community relations like values formation and leadership. Farmer leaders are now tapped as community facilitators during the skills training sessions.
The centerpiece of Hi-Green implementation is the establishment of a 7-hectare communal farm facility that is managed by the farmers themselves. The communal farm facility serves as a model site for farm technologies and integrated approaches. It is also the learning center for the farmers and a repository of the farm inputs.
In 2009, the provincial government added Entrepreneurship and Marketing Assistance. Under the Farmers’ Road to Market Linkaging (FaRMLink) program, the provincial government explores non-local markets for the community’s products and provides information on which products are in demand.
Hi-Green has benefitted 56.29% or 389 barangays out of the total 691 barangays in the province. It was able to re-green 1,655.67 hectares (around 33%) of its 5,000-hectare target. It has also generated an accumulated income of PhP2.8 million, mainly from the sale of vegetables.
With Hi-Green, agricultural extension delivery became efficient and effective once more. There are 28 agricultural technicians (one technician assisting five barangays), three PLGU district coordinators, and one focal person from the municipal government tasked to provide technical assistance to Hi-Green cooperators. The program has also strengthened alliances and project complementation between and among local government units, NGAs, NGO and the communities.
Today, six municipalities have initiated projects parallel to the Hi-Green project. Among these projects are “O, my Gulay” (Labason), the Communal Garden ni Neneng (Mutia), the Balik sa Yuta (Tampilisan), CRISTAL-Hi-Green (Katipunan), and Rubber Production (Sergio Osmeña and Siayan).
The provincial government is now negotiating a partnership with the USDA-ACDIVOCA for the implementation of the CoCoPal (Coconut, Cocoa, and Palayaman) program. Some local government units (Lapu-lapu, Piñan; Gunyan, Siayan; Sianan, Godod) have also incorporated support for the program in their Internal Revenue Allotment.
To foster excellence, the provincial government has also incorporated an awards incentive into the program. The “Hi-Green: Sa Magaling na Barangay, Sikat Ka” awards is now in its 4th year. It bestows two units of multicab vans that can be used by the community to market their products and cash amounting to PhP 100,000.00 to winning barangays or Organizations.
Resolutions and memoranda of agreement ensure program sustainability. While the farmers’ organizations are given autonomy in their harvest sharing agreements, the program implementers ensured that at least fifty percent of the income generated from the project will revert to the association for the expansion and development of the project. This is to ensure the continuous participation of community households in the program and to sustain project Implementation.
Today, the provincial government is optimistic that over time they will be able to finally reduce poverty incidence in the province. LGUs in similar situations would do well to learn from Zamboanga del Norte’s experience.