Winning the Peace: Army builds wellness farms

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By Danny B. Dangcalan

A Walk in the Park

Thursday, April 24, 2014


A WELLNESS farm to fight insurgency.

This is one of the many nontraditional innovations of the military, particularly the 303rd Infantry Brigade, to winning the peace in Negros Occidental.

A 2.5-hectare farm, called the NEGROS FIRST-Army Wellness Farm, is productively located inside the compound of the 303rd Infantry Brigade (IB) in Brgy. Minoyan Murcia town.

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Col. Jon Aying, commander of the 303rd IB, says the wellness farm, which adopts an integrated organic farming system, produces organic vegetables and raises poultry and livestock.

It is designed to cater to former rebels (FRs) who want to return to the mainstream society, he adds.

“We want to capacitate former rebels by teaching them organic farming and other means of livelihood, to ensure their sustainable sources of income when they re-integrate to the community,” Aying explains.

The wellness farm at the military compound is being cultivated by a labor force composed of regular soldiers, members of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGUs) and FRs.

Aying says satellite wellness farms are being established in the 1st, 5th and 6th districts of the province. “These farms will serve as learning and livelihood centers, especially designed to cater former rebels,” he further explains.

In general, the wellness farms help ensure food security, basic income and sustainable livelihood for FRs, threatened witnesses, CAFGU Active Auxiliary (CAA) members, and individuals and communities highly affected by armed conflict.

The program recognizes economic capacity-building of the beneficiaries to become self-reliant and less vulnerable, with a projection towards their permanent settlement and production areas assured of protection from lawlessness and natural disasters, Aying adds.

Rationale

The military said that despite the high economic state of Negros Occidental, the latest survey by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) revealed that it still belongs to the category of provinces with the lowest average family income in the rural areas, causing high poverty incidence in this side of the island.

The low income in rural areas results to low literacy among children as many of them are being pulled out of school to work in sugar plantations, the survey found.

This problem has resulted to inter-generational poverty and illiteracy. Accordingly, food insecurity is inextricably linked with poverty as one of the major root causes of violence that result to lawlessness and armed conflict, Aying says.

Negros Occidental remains as one of the top provinces experiencing the longest-running communist insurgency in the country, the military says.

Subsequently, some families joined the armed struggle and this has become an intergenerational practice, a source of food and income, and a way of life in a culture of violence, it adds.

As a response to this social predicament, the 303rd IB adopted a “Wellness Program” for FRs, threatened witnesses, CAFGU Active Auxiliary (CAA) members, and Army personnel.

It is based on an integrated framework consistent with the peace and development concept of the Provincial Peace, Integration and Development Unit (Pro-PIDU).

The Pro-PIDU, of which the 303rd IB is a member, is spearheading the campaign to address the root causes of insurgency in the province.

It adopts a systems approach towards sustainable peace-building through the transformation of communities along the different dimensions of conflict – personal, relational, structural, and cultural.

As such, all projects and activities are consistent with the NEGROS FIRST Agenda of Gov. Alfredo Maranon Jr., the social integration program of the National Government, and the Millennium Development Goals.

Under the Wellness Program, the Wellness Farming System has become Pro-PIDU’s flagship project for the socio-economic enhancement of vulnerable communities through crop, livestock and poultry production to increase their income and promote diversity along with environmental sustainability.

The Wellness Farming System operates through a network of farms and gardens, designed for productivity and benefits of the focus-targeted beneficiaries.

Sustainable

Since the implementation of the project, a generated income of P300,000 gross sales was earned from vegetable farming, livestock and poultry raising for nine months.

The provincial government gave P1.5 million for the program in the preparation of land and development of facilities.

Aying acknowledged the help of various civil society organizations including the Kasanag and Alter Trade Foundation Inc, and various offices under the provincial government of Negros Occidental, for the sustainability of the program.

The NEGROS FIRST-Army Wellness Farm was awarded Outstanding Animal Raiser for Peace Advocate Partners, during the recently concluded 21st Panaad sa Negros Festival.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on April 24, 2014.

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