Responding to poverty as a community: partner MKKs launch their Communal Organic Vegetable Farms

UNDP Country Director Titon Mitra and Party graced the blessing and launching of MKK Communal Organic Vegetable Farm in Barangay Cabantohan, Lemery.

UNDP Country Director Titon Mitra and Party graced the blessing and launching of MKK Communal Organic Vegetable Farm in Barangay Cabantohan, Lemery.

Partner MKKs (Magagmay nga Kristianong Katilingban) in Lemery, Northern Iloilo reached another milestone with the blessing and launching of their Communal Organic Vegetable Farms last June 11, 2015. It was a day ahead of a major national holiday, our Independence Day. The day was laden with so much symbolisms of breaking barriers and bondages that contribute to poverty.

The Church had declared 2015 as the Year of the Poor. The MKKs last December 2014 had taken the theme: “Responding to poverty through MKKs.” Walking their talk, they pushed further their community activities, previously dominated by formation sessions, faith and bible sharing into environmental and economic activities that would impact on many aspects of family and community life.

Blessing and launching of MKK Communal Organic Vegetable Farm in Nasapahan, Lemery.

Blessing and launching of MKK Communal Organic Vegetable Farm in Nasapahan, Lemery.

First, the idea of putting up their Communal Organic Vegetable Farm is consistent with their primary reason for existing – as a community. They could have insisted on operating individual farms, but it would become less of what they are trying to build. They are determined to actualize what they understand from their MKK Conceptual Framework that it is not solely through formation activities that build strongly their sense of community but even environmental and economic activities as well. Instead of competing with each other, they cooperate and pool their resources together.

Second, the operationalization of their Communal Organic Vegetable Farms is a direct response to the findings and recommendations when they did the Participatory Vulnerability Mapping (PVM). With the 3D Map as their reference, the partner communities, specifically with the inputs from their elders who intimately know their environment for the last 65 years or more, the community members realized that the scary change in their ecosystems is the loss of most of their forest cover in their upland areas as these have been converted into corn plantation. The excessive use of chemicals, pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizers in growing genetically-modified corn (GMO) not only contaminated their waterways that affected the source of their potable water but also annihilated indigenous aquaculture fishes in their rivers and creeks that used to feed them. Thus, the practice of organic farming will directly reverse the trend on perennial reliance on destructive farming methodologies and is meant to help heal their ravaged environment. A small initiative, yes, but all giant leaps started with small steps.

MKK women of Nagsulang, Lemery operating the cultivator that made the plots for vegetables.

MKK women of Nagsulang, Lemery operating the cultivator that made the plots for vegetables.

Incidentally, Pope Francis is about to release an unprecedented Papal Encyclical on environment. This papal teaching questions the use of GMO corn and other varieties that intensify the application of insecticides, pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals that poison the fragile environment leaving the poor poorer with the degradation of their land resource.

Third, while it is true that the operationalization of Communal Organic Vegetable Farms is with the support of Missio Munich, nothing could have taken off the ground without the partner communities contributing their own resources. The most valuable resource is their sense of community, facilitated by a long process of organizing and formation by our volunteer leaders. As a community, they negotiated the long-term use of the land that would host the communal farm. As a community they held their farm planning. As a community, they discuss on how they would remunerate justly each one according to actual efforts on the communal farm. As a community, they built their farm resthouse, vermin bins, nursery and other small structures. As a community, they labored on their land preparation and made plots.

Fourth, in their farm planning, they not only identified the appropriate plant and vegetable types, they also identified their markets. Their first market is their community. It is ironic for the longest time that many of their vegetables are still coming from other places when there are vast vacant spaces unutilized in their midst. They decided that they address first the food security of their own community by selling affordable and chemical-free vegetables. In Bgy. Cabantohan, partner MKKs would contribute to the daily lunch requirements of all schoolchildren as the school is managing a feeding program. Their second market is to support their food processing, specifically the pickled varieties, so that vegetable ingredients are guaranteed organic. Their third market is their wider community as they are planning to hold in the parish a Sunday Organic Market every week. Their fourth market is we would help facilitate that they penetrate retailers like groceries, end-users like restaurants or institutional users like hospitals and hotels.

The blessing and launching of Communal Organic Vegetable Farms among partner MKKs in Cabantohan and Nagsulang in Lemery, Iloilo last June 11, 2015 was simple but monumental in its significance and meaning. Too few among us understand that when the poor decide and act as a community…they are the first to respond to their own situations of poverty.

The nursery, where seedlings would be first cultivated to protect from insects, is a standard feature for every MKK Communal Organic Vegetable Farm.

The nursery, where seedlings would be first cultivated to protect from insects, is a standard feature for every MKK Communal Organic Vegetable Farm.

MKK  member in Nagsulang, Lemery learning how to operate the cultivator.

MKK member in Nagsulang, Lemery learning how to operate the cultivator.