CATEEL, DAVAO ORIENTAL--- For Davao Oriental Governor Corazon Malanyaon, feeding the poor and providing opportunities for her people to free themselves from the shackles of poverty are not impossible. This task, she says, requires political will, commitment and sheer determination among many diverse partners.
She keeps on reminding her people that whatever actions we take today will decide whether tomorrow is filled with famine or food security, poverty or prosperity. “And we cannot afford to fail for the stakes are simply too high.”
Malanyaon stressed that food means rice, so she find the land, water and the people to grow enough rice especially for the poor. “We can keep the poor fed if we can correctly set our priorities. We can grow enough food and generate productive employment for the poor, while maintaining our natural resource base and preserving biodiversity,” says the governor who is in her last term in office. She says the poor can live without many things in life, but they cannot live without rice. she believes that the government should really go to great lengths to protect rice, acknowledging that the grain is also politically sacred and powerful.
As a leader, she saw many people born into poverty and live their entire lives in poverty with only death allowing them to escape. Malnourished and living in absolute poverty, their lives are driven by a simple obsession: finding their next meal. “We have to give hope to the people, the hope to survive.
If the poor see no prospect for ever being free from poverty, they cannot help but lose all hope. And with hopelessness, society unravels,” says the governor. Summoning the political and social will to address the root causes of food shortages, Governor Malanyaon says it takes a right mixture of people and resources, the full support of high-level leaders, the dedicated hard work of farmers and extension workers, and access to improved rice varieties.
She pointed out that the underlying issues of food security which include the ability to grow, harvest, process and store rice and other foods must be addressed now, saying that peace and development will not be built on empty stomachs and human misery.
So, for consistently championing the cause to help solve chronic hunger, Governor Malanyaon succeeded in convincing the World Bank to fund the recently completed P289 million irrigation project in the municipality of Cateel. The World Bank agrees with the governor’s proposition that food means rice and that feeding the poor and helping them work their way out of poverty means starting with the basics: increasing rice production and improving access to rice.
The new sustainable irrigation infrastructure here will allow for a huge increase in palay (unhusked rice) production as it is set to irrigate the once rainfed rice farms in the town. It will irrigate 2,200 hectares of rice fields. It has a dam and a regulating reservoir that will provide year-round irrigation services to rice fields in the town. It would benefit 1,400 farming households in eleven villages, increasing their income and generate employment and revenues.
Rainfed rice farmers here says they are “truly at the weather’s mercy” as depending on rainfall to grow rice involves much risk: there may be too much water in part of the year, and not enough at other times. And soil fertility is commonly low, and pests such as weeds, brown spot, brown planthopper, also reduces yields. When severe drought strikes, its impact usually lasts much longer than a cropping season. Thus with no harvest, they are often forced to sell their draft animals, mortgage their land and overexploit forest resources.
The men sometimes migrate in search of work, leaving behind their families to make do, which often means reducing their meals of rice from three to two and then to one a day. “We can now hope for an increased harvest every cropping,” says Joseph Alonzo, president of an irrigators’ association here, adding that palay yield could go as high as 200 sacks per hectare.
The World Bank says the newly completed irrigation system here is the largest among the irrigation projects they funded in the island of Mindanao. It was started in November 2011 but its completion was stalled by two strong typhoons. “And finally, after two storms, we are now enjoying the scenery, and of course, we are looking forward to the utility of this project,” says Realyn Ramos, director of the Mindanao Rural Development Program during a turnover ceremony here.
The World Bank, represented by Carol Figueroa Geron, says they will make Davao Oriental a role model for the whole Philippines.
Agriculture Undersecretary Emerson Palad says the national government would also provide bridges, farm-to-market roads and other infrastructure projects to Davao Oriental to boost farmers’ income by reducing the cost of marketing their products.
For her part, Gov. Malanyaon says the new irrigation system here “marks a very significant development milestone in my journey as governor of Davao Oriental for three consecutive terms. As I am about to wrap up with my third term, the feeling of having fulfilled another dream for this province and having provided a major development infrastructure is so overwhelming and fulfilling.
"This project is a monument of answered prayers, a symbol of resiliency and hard work, and an example of what can be done with a will to achieve… This project is a testament to the sincerity of the national government to defeat poverty in the countryside, and attain inclusive development for this country, a mission that is very much supported by the World Bank… Thank you President Noynoy Aquino, Secretary Alcala and the World Bank… This project can be a benchmark for all LGUs of this country. How our province weathered harassments and obstacles in the project implementation can also be another interesting story to tell. We went through a lot. We were hit by one typhoon after another, and each time it happened it destroyed everything that we built. How our province was able to complete a huge project in seven months though programmed to be completed in two years is another story to tell.” The Governer said (Ferdinand Zuasola/PIO DO)