Philippines: Farmers Return To Their Fields After Years Of Displacement

The fierce upsurge in conflict in Central Mindanao in 2008 displaced over 700,000 people. Among them was Efren Canto Mayor, a farmer who was tilling his fields when armed men attacked their village and forced him to flee with his family.  Now Efren has returned to the village, where WFP is helping him and the rest of the community  to rebuild lives and livelihoods.

ALEOSAN, NORTH COTABATO -- Pristine green fields mask an unspeakable story once witnessed by this now fertile land.  Three years ago, while the farmers of Bagolibas village were tilling their fields, armed men suddenly appeared and attacked the village. 

The armed men shot at everyone, both men and women, with the women running away with nothing but the clothes on their back,” recounts 47-year old Efren Canto Mayor. “And then they took everything – burning our homes, seizing our farming implements, our harvest, our farm animals, everything."

Efren, a father of five children, like the others in the community who survived that fateful day in August 2008, worried what the future would have in store for him now that he had lost his main source of livelihood.
After this attack, the community of Bagolibas fled to the nearby province of Maguindanao where they settled in camps set up by the government for internally displaced persons (IDPs).  They remained there for two years, afraid to return home due to the conflict.  During this period, they received food assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP) and basic social services from other agencies and NGOs operating in the areas.
Rebuilding from Nothing
In 2010, with the return of relative peace to Central Mindanao which gave confidence to most IDPs to return to their homes, WFP transitioned its support to pro-actively help these communities resettle and get back on their feet using food as an incentive to support small-scale community-based projects and skills training (i.e., Food-for-Work and Food-for-Training).
“WFP food-for-work assistance gave us the opportunity to restart rice production which helped us tremendously, particularly during the difficult transition period when we had to re-cultivate land that had been abandoned for two years and at a time when we had no harvest at all”, says Efren.
For six months, WFP provided a total of 102 tons of rice and five tons of beans to 150 farmers working on the 150-hectare rice field.   As a result, each farmer, on average, is now able to harvest 50 sacks of rice for every hectare of cultivated land.
“My family and I usually consume 30 sacks worth of rice and then I sell the remaining 20 sacks for about 800 pesos (approximately US$18) per 50-kilogram sack”, says Efren. “We are very thankful to WFP.  Without timely WFP food support, we would have had an extremely hard time getting back on our feet”.
Next to their rice paddies, a bullet-ridden Java Plum tree is a visible reminder to the community of what happened when they lost everything, but the lush rice crop about to be harvested is also a symbol of hope for the future.
N.B. The 2008/2009 major upsurge in conflict between the government forces and elements of the major separatist group in Central Mindanao led to the displacement of over 700,000 people and the devastation of productive assets, livelihoods, houses and schools.
In early 2010, an Emergency Food Security Assessment conducted by WFP and its partner organizations indicated that 70 percent of the IDP and returnee population were experiencing varying degrees of food insecurity.