From arms to farms

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ON the hilly fringes of Iloilo, you’ll find a unique community of farmers. In their battle against poverty, they waged war against the government. They were part of an armed revolution. They lived “underground.” They were New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.
But that was five years ago.

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Today, they are all farmers, still waging war vs. poverty but instead of firearms, they carry shovels. The farmland is their new battlefield.

One example is Nita Capirayan. She used to lie sleepless watching their lair, with her gun beside her. As an active member of NPA at age 53, she led the educations committee and was constantly obsessed on how to recruit more members and help the rebel movement grow.

Today, Capirayan sleeps beside her kids, still sleepless at times, her mind constantly busy thinking of strategies on how to grow the organic farming community she now heads together with other rebel returnees.

She is now the president of the Leon Vegetable Growers Association, established in 2010 and registered with the Department of Labor and Employment. The association is composed predominantly of former rebels, just like her, who have opted to trade arms to farms.

“Maliit pa lang ang aming samahan. Fifty members pa lang kami at sa 50 magsasaka na yan, 30 sa amin ay nasa organic farming, pero ang iba pa ay sumusubok na rin [Our group is still small. We only have 50 members, 30 of whom are into organic farming, but the rest are already trying it out],” she explained.

Leon is a quiet municipality two hours away from Iloilo City and is known as the “Fruit and Vegetable Basket of Iloilo.” Its fertile land and temperate climate allows for farmers to produce the sweetest fruits and good vegetable yield. Eighty percent of Leon’s townspeople live by farming, while the 20 percent by raising chicken, swine and goats in their backyard.

Organic farming
As soon as Nita descended from the hills, she gathered her fellow comrades and discussed a better solution to fight poverty and hunger.

“Alam naman namin na ang Leon ay sagana sa matabang lupa at magandang klima. Napakabilis magpalago ng tanim dito sa aming lugar. Hindi matagal bago kami nagpasya na sisimulan naming magsaka at palalaganapin naming ang konsepto na ‘Mahalin Pagkaing Atin’ [We all know that Leon is blessed with rich soil and a great climate. It is so easy to grow crops here in our province. It didn’t take long for us to decide to go into farming and promote the concept of ‘Mahalin Pagkaing Atin’],” Capirayan explained.

Using her good communication skills and effective networking, she reached out to agencies and universities who could help their group. Help immediately came to the former rebels through the Junior Marketing Association of the Philippines and the University of the Philippines in Iloilo.

UP Iloilo linked the group with different organizations for training on effective farming practices; while the Junior Marketing Association taught how to effectively market their produce.

The farms of the association members are also frequently visited by Cencia Clarito,
agricultural technologist of the Department of Agriculture in Iloilo, who teaches them organic farming.

Through all her effort and the help of others, Capirayan’s farm has become a small “paradise” of filled sweet pepper, lettuce, corn, chayote, carrots, papaya and others. Her association members have eggplants, string beans, okra, even coconut in their own small farms.

Through farming, Capirayan and the association found out that it is possible to have food on their tables every single day. And it definitely does not need an armed revolution to do that.

(Mahalin Pagkaing Atin program aims to encourage more farmers to invest in manufacturing local produce, and to encourage corporations and entrepreneurs to buy home-grown food instead of importing from abroad.)

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