PLANTING THE SEEDS OF PEACE: From Arms to Farms Program of Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte - Angat Buhay - OVP

PLANTING THE SEEDS OF PEACE: From Arms to Farms Program of Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte

It's two in the afternoon. While waiting for the arrival of Vice President Leni Robredo, Hadjir Nur Muto stares at the nearby patch of trees reminiscing the times before he became an organic farmer.

A few years ago, Muto was Commander Aguila, one of the leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. He and his men hid deep in the mountains and were greatly involved in the armed struggle of the Muslim separatist movement.

Fearing for the safety of his family, he laid down his arms and surrendered to the government. However, he soon faced an uncertain future. He had no skills to help him earn a living and no means to provide for his family.

However, he resisted the urge to take up arms again and availed of the Arms to Farms program initiated by the local government of Kauswagan in partnership with the private sector, the Department of Agriculture, TESDA and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Through the program, he was trained in organic farming methods and was given loan seedlings to help him start his own farm. For every bag, he had to return one and a half bag of seedlings after the harvest.

Simple farming implements were also made available on loan with easy terms and the beneficiaries take turns in using facilities such as threshers and small tractors maintained by the local government.

During a meeting with the Vice President, Muto took pride in his experience with the town's program and shared how he is now reaping the harvest of his labor.

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"Gusto namin na makita mo ang farm namin. Ngayon, marunong na akong magtanim. Kahit na isang taon hindi pumunta sa merkado, mabubuhay kami," he said.

For her part, Robredo said that she long wanted to visit Kauswagan because mayor Rommel Arnado told her how this sustainable agriculture model helped transform his town and lower the poverty incidence from 79% in 2009 to 47.5% in 2013.

"Their success should be an inspiration to others,  I am confident that what happened in Kauswagan can be replicated elsewhere," she said.

She added that given the chance, appropriate assistance, and guidance, anyone can rise beyond conflict, economic disparity, and social strife.

Today, Muto and other former rebels are part of a different revolution. The arms to farms program provides an opportunity for them to participate in a new way of life centered on farming rather than fighting - and in the process, begin sowing the seeds of hope and peace in Mindanao.