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  • Writer's pictureSayeed Aljalani

FEATURE: Fresh, healthy food in community quarantine

25 March 2020 - In the small town of Kauswagan in Lanao del Norte, Philippines, the local government encouraged distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables while the whole country is in community quarantine as a preventive measure amid the ongoing crisis brought about by the deadly coronavirus disease (COVID-19), which claimed scores of lives across the globe. President Rodrigo Duterte, in a message to the nation during a live telecast Tuesday evening, assured government support to more than a hundred million Filipinos now directly and indirectly affected by the continuing rise of COVID-19 cases in different locations across the islands. Duterte had placed more than 7,500 islands in this southeast Asian archipelago in a state of calamity. As of 24 March, the Department of Health (DOH) reported 552 cases in total with 35 deaths including doctors who directly served affected patients between February and March 2020. About 60% of these cases have been reported in the past 5 days.

The local chief executive of Kauswagan, Mayor Rommel Arnado, is currently national president of the League of Organic Agriculture Municipalities, Cities and Provinces of the Philippines (LOAMCP Philippines). He has championed conversion of agricultural lands in his jurisdiction into organic farms. Such efforts significantly cut down poverty incidences in the municipality from 2012 to 2019. Arnado’s vision zeroed in on peacebuilding and sustainable development efforts by creating model organic farms managed by rebel returnees who, twenty years ago, led a series of attacks in this coastal town. In 2000, Kauswagan was epicenter of conflict between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), its faction, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and government forces. The whole town became a battlefield with several homes and structures burned to the ground with civilians fleeing to nearby towns and cities. Determined to make change, a roadmap for peace and development dubbed “Sustainable Integrated Kauswagan Development and Peace Agenda” or SIKAD PA, coincidentally a local word for “strive more,” was developed, tested and launched by Arnado during his first term as town mayor in 2010, at which time, the town‘s poverty incidence was at its ultimate high at 74%. Ten years into the program, an empowered and inclusive community thrives. A significant change in economic development was noted a poverty incidence significantly dropped to 4.9% in 2019. In January, the local government launched a full farming mechanizination program aimed at further boosting agriculture and farming practices in the area. “Farm mechanization is the answer to the call for food production and sustainability. We anticipate that we will not only increase production, it will increase our farmers’ income. Through this program, our farmers are able to use modern equipment which means more success can be achieved and farmlands will be maximized; production will be maximized,” said Arnado. The aims of Kauswagan at food security and sustainability has been internationally recognized. In 2016, the town was accorded the Peace Prize Award in Colombia by the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG). On the other hand, LOAMCP Philippines is being supported by international and local organizations aimed at replicating LGU organic agriculture successes in more towns, cities and provinces. With the abundance of produce in the area, Arnado encouraged local village chiefs to utilize this season‘s harvest to augment government sup while the whole population is in quarantine. Community lockdowns have been put in place restricting movements of people. Military and police forces are manning the streets ensuring people stay indoors. Public transportation has been limited and quarantine passes issued to families allowing only one member to leave the household at a time to get food or medicines. In the whole province of Lanao del Norte and in most cities and towns in Mindanao, as well as in Luzon island, the labor force has been put on hold posing a great threat to communities. While most people are ordered to stay home to help contain the spread of the virus, families lose the opportunity to earn a living and feed themselves and their dependents. Several community leaders and local governments across the islands are doing their best to support the citizenry at this time of crisis. While in many places processed food and/or canned goods are distributed to homes, Kauswagan has this opportunity to offer a healthy provision to affected populations.

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