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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

4SF ‘Seed the Future’ project harvests hope for peace, dev’t in Basilan

by Rene V. Carbayas

ISABELA CITY, Basilan – Grow a seed and you’ll not grow hungry. Teach people to fish so they can stand and feed their young. More than armed confrontation, the military here believes in this model of peace and development.

For conflict-ridden island province, government relief goods could only last a day or two, but when people know how ‘catch fish’, they can rebuild their lives and survive.

Hardly, many folks in Basilan could venture on sustainable farming with the sporadic armed conflict and confrontations experienced mostly by the people in farm-rich communities and hinterlands. Basilan has one of the best soils for agriculture, evident by multi-national companies then that established the rubber and coconut industries.

As the armed conflict escalated with the dreaded Abu Sayyaf bandits, many farmers shied away from tilling the lands. By then, Basilan grew dependent of vegetables and goods from outside its shores.

But the three-week long Zamboanga Siege in 2013 has taught Basilan with lessons the hard way. The island-Province was cut off from the mainland after government forces blocked sea routes to prevent rogue MNLF elements from destabilizing Zamboanga City. Nothing goes in or out of the Province – including food items.

Since then, food security has become a political agenda. Local Government officials has been boosting of the great potentials in developing agriculture in Basilan.

But it is with the knowledge and commitment of its men and women, the 4th Special Forces (SF) Battalion of the Philippine Army takes the lead in reintroducing the local populace in the art of farming.

The 4th SF Battalion launched the ‘Seed the Future’ project about three months ago in Basilan where they encourage Basilan folks to venture into farming and agriculture to boost socio-economic activity and food security in the island province.

1LT Ron Villarosa, Public Affairs Officer, 4th Special Force (SF) Battalion said that the Seed the Future project starting out as a community-based project, which was conceptualized to catalyze the advancement of the local agriculture industry through the resource integration of different government agencies, non-government organization and other stakeholders to facilitate learning, skills development and application of crop production technology to achieve a self-sufficient and sustainable local agricultural industry. “Sustaining Food Security – Transforming Communities” is the project’s tagline.

Recently, the unit opened its doors to “affordably” fresh vegetables last week where loads of yield was harvested in its one hectare model farm, with consumers from nearby towns of Lantawan, Maluso, and even as far out as Sumisip, lining up for the fresh products.

“We have seen these methods being introduced by many agricultural authorities. However promising, theories being discussed to farmers are yet to be practiced in Basilan, until now,” LTC Andrew B Bacala Jr, Commanding Officer of the 4th Special Forces Battalion said.

  1. The model farm for vegetable production is spearheaded by the 4th Special Forces Battalion in its camp yard. It is done in partnership with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries–ARMM (DAF-ARMM), Bureau of Plant Indusrty (BPI), United Workers Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Multi-Purpose Cooperative (UWARBMC), the Isabela City Water District (ISAWAD) and Nagdilaab Foundation Inc. The activity forms part of the unit’s peace, security and development initiatives under the Seed the Future Project.

“A hectare of cultivated land could easily employ ten farmers, which translates to ten families being fed with enough appropriations to send their kids to school. Imagine how many people could benefit from the program and its implications to the improvement of Basilan in ten years – all that may well start from this project,” LTC Bacala added who is himself a practicing farmer and came from a farmer-family in the highlands of Mountain Province.

Bacala said that by providing socio-economic opportunities, “we hope to transform their communities from fighters to farmers. Beyond fighting, the Special Forces are here to build communities. We are here to make a difference.”