THE concept of empowerment, generally speaking, involves the strengthening of the meaning and reality of the principles of “transparency” and “accountability” held in common with notions of democracy and sustainable development. (“Empowerment for Sustained Development,” edited by Naresh Sigh and Vangile Titi of Fernwood Publishing Ltd.)
The concept involves participatory democracy, fostering human rights, and decentralization to enable people to understand the reality of their environment (social, political, economic, ecological and cultural), to reflect on the factors that shape their environment and to take steps to effect changes to improve their situation.
Empowerment as a strategy for poverty alleviation and sustainable development has to be multifaceted, multidimensional process involving the mobilization of resources and people’s capacities to enter the transition towards sustainable development.
Accordingly, empowerment can then become a tool for the reversal of “impoverishment processes” that resulted from the “trickle-down” approach of development.
Identifying elements or conditionalities in pursuit of people empowerment is central to understanding the concrete manifestations of empowerment on the ground. Elements of empowerment, according to the Sigh and Titi book, include:
• Local self-reliance, autonomy in the decision-making processes of communities at village level, and direct participatory democracy in the larger process of representative governance. This would allow the maximum use of the people’s capabilities in using services and information, exercising foresight, experimenting and innovating, collaboration with others, and exploiting new conditions and sources;
• Provision of space for cultural assertion and spiritual welfare, and experimental social learning, including the articulation and application of indigenous knowledge, in addition to theoretical/scientific knowledge;
• Access to land and other resources, education for change, and housing and health facilities;
• Ability to achieve food and sustain self-sufficiency;
• Access to income, assets and credit facilities, and the ability to create credit facilities;
• Access to knowledge and skills (both endogenous and external) for the maintenance of constant natural capital stock and the environmental sink capacity;
• Access to skills, training, problem-solving techniques, and best available appropriate technologies and information, without which the knowledge and skills become virtually useless; and
• Participation in decision-making processes by all people in particular women and youth.
By occupation of household heads, by far the largest numbers (60 percent) of poor Filipino families are engaged in agriculture, animal husbandry and forestry. Most of these are in rural areas. By class of worker, the statistics showed that the most numerous among the poor were the rural self-employed (about half of all poor families).
Poor families in the rural areas of the provinces are the: a) lowland landless agricultural workers; b) lowland small farm owners and cultivators; c) upland farmers, including tribal communities; and d) artisan fisherfolk.
Lowland landless agricultural workers work in agriculture but have neither ownership nor farming rights. They earn most of their income from the sale of their labor, either to plantations or smaller farms and rights to till the land. Lowland small farm owners and cultivators, on the other hand, own the land they till or have a recognized right to till the soil. This group includes owners, lessees and tenants. They own land of less than one hectare up to three hectares. Upland farmers are subsistence farmers of marginal land on rolling hills and steep mountain slopes. (Uplands are operationally defined as areas with a slope of 18 degrees or more. They include plateaus and valleys in higher elevations.) Subgroups may be distinguished as: a) cultural or tribal communities; b) kaingineros or slash-and-burn shifting cultivators; and c) rice and corn farmers who have resettled. They may have legal access to the land they till through any combination of the following arrangements: a) ownership or part ownership; b) lease; or c) share tenancy (“saop/sacadas”). They are distinguished from lowland farm owners and cultivators.
Fisherfolk comprise municipal, small-scale or subsistence fishermen. They use equipment which either does not require boats or necessitates the use of boats below three tons, such as the traditional outriggers (bangka). They operate in inland waters and marine waters within three nautical miles from the coast when using motorized bangka.
Role of cooperatives
Markets could work better with and for farmers through rural cooperatives which can be an important tool in helping small-scale producers organize their integration into the modern agricultural sector. Today, the amount of agricultural products handled, ex-farmgate, by cooperatives is small and many cooperatives stand in great need of financial and institutional strengthening. Since most have been established as credit vehicles, trade both in inputs and products has been simply an outgrowth of the credit function, i.e., the supply of products in kind and payments effected with products. Both aspects of trade are growing as the working capital of cooperatives grows. Cooperatives can and are competing with established traders by offering cash payments, accurate prices and quality determination, free collection at the farmgate and storage, a business development which should cut transaction costs for farmers.
Convergence and local tasking
• Targeting – Focus-targeting by convergence areas such as agrarian reform communities and urban poor resettlement sites), and by sector (segregating poverty incidence and magnitude according to basic sector).
• Policies and synchronization – National and local policies in support of poverty alleviation would be useful.
• Resource inventory – Determining local, national and international resources available for the Province antipoverty programs.
• Networking – Maximizing the utilization of existing networks, enhancing venues for collaboration and consensus.
Conclusions and recommendations
Thus far, agricultural growth has not impacted on poverty alleviation. The growth of this sector has been insufficient. Government efforts to alleviate poverty incidence will need greater investment in infrastructure, improvement of market efficiency and the building of the province’s human capital of the poor. Rural cooperatives and NGOs should be encouraged to provide credit to the small farmer, with government involvement focused on capacity-building.
A rural poverty alleviation strategy should include the following elements:
• Improvement of access to the means of production greater investments in rural infrastructure and improvements in agricultural extension services which are necessary to bring about increased productivity and, consequently, incomes;
• Increased investment in human capital through the improvement of the quantity and quality of, as well as the easing of access to, primary education in the rural areas and the strengthening of primary health care services.
Former ambassador Jose Romero, Ph.D., is an expert on rural issues, especially the coconut industry and the coconut farmers’ situation.