Steering Local Development through People Empowerment
In rural communities, poverty is the norm rather than the exception. In the Municipality of Dumingag, a local survey showed that 90% of its population earn only PhP3,000 a month, which is way below the poverty threshold of Php 13,000 for a family of six in the rural areas. Yet the municipality is rich in fertile but idle farmlands. Apparently, the LGU lacked a program that could boost the local agricultural economy.
To develop a program, the Mayor and his staff visited and consulted with all the barangays, even staying overnight in some areas to really get a feel of the people’s sentiments and aspirations. From these consultations, the LGU came up with its general program of government—the Genuine People’s Agenda (GPA). This program started in 2007 and aimed to improve the living conditions and quality of life of the people through capacity development in organic farming and sustainable agriculture. This program also promotes the cultivation of farm products with high income potential. These high value products include abaca, rubber, falcata, and cassava.
Armed with the GPA, the LGU conducted an intensive information and education campaign and continued immersing itself into the barangays. It organized the communities and negotiated with different government agencies and agribusiness firms to establish market linkages between the farmers and the buyers. With these activities, the LGU earned the people’s trust and elicited their support in pursuing the implementation of their development agenda.
Subsequently, the LGU deployed Livelihood Development Coordinators (LDC) to the various barangays to implement and monitor the program. The people readily warmed to the LDCs and participated in the capability-building trainings. The LGU also organized teams of barangay focal persons for the different agricultural programs—i.e. organic farming, cash crop cultivation, inland fishery, and poultry raising. Barangay councilors were designated as focal persons for a particular agriculture program in their respective barangays. The focal persons and the LDCs were responsible in ensuring the capacity development of the barangay folk. This mentoring mechanism brought the Dumingag LGU closer to the people. More importantly, it equipped the people with the appropriate knowledge, skills, attitudes and tools. Eventually more people began planting organic staple crops, cash crops, and also engaged in handicrafts.
The improvements are now evident after only three years. Back in 2007, there were less than 10 organic farming practitioners in Dumingag. Today, there are already around 400 organic farming practitioners with their own cooperatives. Three years ago, only around five hectares were planted with abaca. By 2010, there are already around 460 hectares of abaca farmed by 200 farmers in the upland barangays of Dumingag. A hectare of fully-planted abaca farm has an income potential of Php 50,000 per six months. Of the 200 abaca farmers, more than 90% are smallholders owning less than two hectares of abaca farmland. Compared to before the program, the local abaca industry is flourishing. The high demand for abaca products also compelled the LGU to increase its handicraft workforce from four to 60 women.
In 2007, there were only less than 10 hectares of rubber farms in Dumingag. Today, there are already around 1,100 hectares of rubber farms mostly owned by smallholders. This hectare of rubber can already supply three rubber processing plants. If a hectare of rubber could generate around Php 50,000 monthly for the landowner and another Php 50,000 monthly for the rubber tapper, these rubber farms have the potential of substantially raising the income of Dumingag’s rubber farm landowners and rubber tree tappers. More people are foreseen to also gain employment and better incomes once factories are built to process the rubber latex in Dumingag.
Falcata farms have also increased from less than five hectares in 2007 to more than 200 hectares in 2010. While there used to be only 350 hectares of cassava farms, there are now more than 2,000 hectares of cassava farms. A hectare of falcata plantation has an income potential of PhP4 million/hectare/harvest for the farmer-landowner, while the cassava plantation has an income potential of PhP100,000/hectare/annum for the farmer/landowner.
These developments in Dumingag indicate that the people responded warmly to the call for the adoption of sustainable agriculture and are now playing a key role in the march towards local economic development.
A key element of the program was the aggressive drive of the LGU to ensure people’s participation and empowerment. As mentioned earlier, the LGU personnel were eager to immerse with, organize and mobilize the 11 lowland barangays and 33 upland barangays towards implementing a sustainable economic program. What is noteworthy is that all the municipal councilors and the heads of offices of the LGU did not balk from going to the most far-flung barangays in the mountainous parts of Dumingag. This extraordinary immersion effort of the local officials moved the people to participate in implementing the GPA.
Another key ingredient was the development and establishment of market linkages. The LGU was able to negotiate a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with several firms for the marketing of the agricultural produce. It was able to create market linkages with San Miguel Corporation for cassava, Novawood Industries for falcata, and NewTech Pulp, Inc. for abaca.
The MOAs ensured that there were ready markets for the farmers’ produce and sufficient agricultural inputs for the firms’ factories. The LGU also partnered with the provincial and regional offices of the Fiber Industry Development Authority (FIDA), Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in the conduct of agricultural skills training sessions. The LGU also tapped the assistance of the Assisi Development Foundation, Inc. (ADFI), the Sustainable Agriculture Center of Xavier University (SAC-XU), the Philippine Agrarian Reform Foundation for National Development (PARFund) and the Jobs, Education and Peace Consultants (JEP) for trainings on sustainable agriculture.
By investing in the people and harnessing their skills, the LGU has not only empowered the people to actively take part in shaping their future, it has also managed to pursue the economic development of the municipality. The LGU of Dumingag is now also much closer to eradicating the problem of poverty. Other LGUs would do well to emulate this collective process of developing and implementing a development agenda.