Turning Spears into Ploughshares

Barry Imam: Unity for Peace

 I met Barry in a meeting with LGU officials and ATI Northern Mindanao representatives yesterday in Balo-i, Lanao del Norte. He is good-looking, chinky eyed, fair-skinned and had a goatee. He is silent and shy at first, just listening to the proceedings of the meeting. But when he opens his mouth, he is so charismatic that you will get hooked and try not to blink your eye, wanting more of his sharings. Even Doc Lito. My Boss was unable to contain his excitement that he claps his hands more that once, and said, “kini..!

Turning point

 He combs his still damp hair. Unsatisfied with his looks, he poured additional gel to his palm and applied from front to back. He combed again. Better now. He heard his wife, humming their favourite Maranao song while preparing the table for breakfast. He smells the aroma of a freshly roasted native coffee being brewed. His stomach growled. He buttoned his shirt and walked to the table. He smiled.

Sa Kuta ni Aga

He gambled to crane his neck, turn it to the right, taking in every detail of his surroundings, exposing his head. His peripheral vision caught a movement from his left. Just as he swung his M16, he felt a sharp jab in his left rib. Before it registered to his brain what happened, he saw blood flowing from a gaping wound. He tried to move but he can’t. Just as his enemy came closer to finish him off, he shouted and woke up. With sweat in his forehead, he grabbed a glass of water and gulped.

"This dream has been recurring", said Aga. His face is old, worn like a tire. His age slowing him down. He has lost his agility. What is left is the hope in his coffee-colored eyes.

I met him during our educational tour to some organic agri farms in Negros Occidental sometime in 2012. We visited May’s Garden of Ramon Uy, Buro-buro Spring Farm of Pam Henares and Penalosa Farm of Ramon Penalosa. Included in the tour are Barangay Captains, Sangguniang Bayan members, and Municipal Officials.

Aga Dimakuta, a known and respected Muslim warrior, have laid down his arms. He ran and won as Sangguniang Bayan for three uninterrupted terms.As his term nears its end, the trip to Bacolod made him turn his sight to Agriculture and see great opportunities ahead. He possesses vast tracts of land. Despite being a warrior, he dreams of lasting peace for his children, for his people. He wants to plant, to make his land productive. To fill every stomach of his constituents. To forget fighting.

Our life depends on our Land. Make this productive and you will live a happy life, concludes Aga. He just finished his lecture to visitors of his farm in his makeshift nipa and bamboo hall. As he sit to take his snacks, I grabbed the opportunity to have a talk with him. To ask about his life.

Aga now is a full-fledged farmer. Durian, marang, lanzones, coffee, cacao, and mango fills part of his land . He also grows upland rice and vegetables. Cows, goats, chickens, ducks, litter in his backyard. His fishpond teems with tilapia.

Gone were the shadows of yesterday. When bullet is the name of the game. Where the strong and powerful rules.

“Uneducating” the Farmers

I saw Mang Tino, with his wife Elvira and their 4 kids, stepping out happily from Jollibee. It's been their routine to drop at this food chain after attending church service every Thursday and Sunday. I can depict from their eyes the contentment they have. Carling, in his middle age, is on his way to his new multi cab. In it are his new purchases of seeds, fertilizers and other farm inputs, in preparation for next cropping season. I also noticed a new bicycle on top of the farm inputs. I'm sure, this is a surprise present to his only son Koykoy. Koykoy is currently enrolled in a private school in their barangay. Aling Nena, with her apo, just came out from Greenwich, with a box of pizza in her hand. She just finished depositing part of her Sales from her harvest. Years ago, Mang Tino, Carling and Aling Nena are just typical farmers. They have a common denominator after every harvest: Short, Failure, Overdraft...3 words that has been common in the vocabulary of our farmers.
The booming voice of MR GOMER TUMBALI of FAO, our Resource Speaker, brought me back from the future. I am attending the Regional Trainers Training on Farm Business School (FBS) in Serrano Hall, ATI, Diliman, Quezon City. It's the 3rd day. It's the day I am enlightened what FBS really means. And I am excited to “uneducate” our farmers. To make them businessmen, to make their farm their business. This is the training they really needed. They've been taught production technologies for ages. They've been provided access to credits. Farm-to-market roads were constructed and so with irrigation systems. But the farmer remains poor. Only now, through ATI, will the seed of business be planted to them.
How? I will first apply it on my own life as a farmer. After successfully doing it on my own, I will gather the farmers to listen to me. I will teach them to understand the market. To plant only what the consumer wants. If the customer wants organic vegetables, the farmer will produce organic vegetables. Gone are the days where farmer produces corn because his neighbours produce corn. I will teach them to be market-driven.
I will teach them the importance of savings, the techniques on how to save and how to invest. I will teach them the art of costing and pricing of their product. To learn the break even price of their produce. I will let them understand depreciation, fixed costs and variable costs. Terms alien to them? well, at first, it is. Once, it was also alien to me. But as I use my hidden weapon in teaching, eventually, they will understand it. They can cope with it. And that hidden weapon is Love. That love will shine in my eyes. They will feel my sincerity. And because I love the farmers, I will reach as many farmers a I can. And they will listen to me. And they will apply what I will teach them. And when they get richer, they will teach their fellow farmers, return the favour, and they will worship and glorify our God.
Lastly, I will not forget to communicate to my God, to guide me, to give me strength to fulfill my obligations to Him.

Facing Danger in the Line of Duty

As dawn breaks, amidst the pounding rain, my Boss (fondly called Doc Lit) and I stepped in the waiting van that will take us to the lair of the 4 rebel commanders who have returned to the folds of law:Kumander Ismael, Kumander Benjie, Kumander Saidumar and Kumander Limbona. We are going there to assess their farms which ATI is funding as a Learning site for organic production of rice and vegetables. As if by coincidence, we never informed our wives of our destination for the place is known as a “no man's land”.

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