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He once dreamed of a better life for his family. He thought he could only fulfill this dream by leaving Lan-ag and getting a job in Baguio City, a thriving city and tourist destination in Cordillera Administrative Region in northern Philippines.

Jun-jun Molina, 28, was born to a family of farmers and grew up in the mountainous village of Lan-ag in Lacub, Abra. Having a family of his own, he wanted to try his luck in the city for a greener pasture. Without college diploma, he ended up as a security guard in different establishments in the city.

After only two years, he and his wife decided to go back to Lan-ag. Life in the city was not what he was dreaming of. He realized their life would be better in the countryside. His often delayed salary as a security guard was not enough for their needs.

"I am not also used to the culture in the city. In the city, nobody cares if you are dying of hunger. In Lan-ag, I am very sure that if I die, it is not because of hunger. Even if I don't have cash, I can live decently with a parcel of land I am tilling," he said.

Like Jun-jun, many indigenous people (IP) from upland communities of Cordillera are seeking better opportunities in the urban areas. Most end up as seasonal and contractural workers in construction, sales persons, domestic helpers, vendors, and in other odd jobs in the informal sector. Community leaders estimate that about 50 to 75 percent of people who migrated in urban centers return to the communities. Like Jun-jun, they still find life in the upland communities better than the city life. Most migrant workers in foreign lands go back to their respective communities after their contracts expired.

The congestion and overpopulation in urban centers brought by migration of IPs who are seeking work prompted the city and provincial governments in the region to devise the Balik-ili (back to the countrysides) Program that encouraged people to return to their respective communities The program provides recipients with minimal cash for their fares and immediate needs back home. However, the program does not have a clear and long term plan on sustainable livelihood to keep the people from leaving their communities because of lack of food and income.

Before the colonial rule, indigenous communities used to be self-sufficient and rely on the bounty of nature for survival. However, development aggression like mining operations, construction of dams, and logging in recent years resulted to the destruction of natural resources and the decrease in arable land for agriculture in Cordillera. This, in turn, diminished the harvests and income of IPs in upland communities. Lan-ag was once the rice granary of the whole municipality of Lacub in the early ‘70s. They were selling their surplus of rice in the town center.Logging, however, made natural resources scarce for the community. Community leaders estimated 50 percent decrease in their harvest. Government neglect further drove them to throes of hunger and poverty.

In the first quarter of 2003, Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera (CDPC) reached out to the people of Lan-ag to consult them regarding the prospect of implementing a development program in the village. The rough roads made traveling to and from Lan-ag difficult and long which barred it from progressing.

Lan-ag also lacked adequate socio-economic services. With only two classrooms and two teachers, the dilapidated school could only accommodate Grades 1 to 4 pupils. The water from the community's two faucets was often not potable during the rainy season. A midwife, who was also serving two other neighboring villages, attended to the health needs of the whole community by dispensing government feeding program once or twice a year. Proper sanitation of surroundings and hygiene in the community were very poor. Because there was no store in the community, basic goods like sugar, salt, cooking oil, soaps and even medicines were bought from Bangued.

The community relies on farming for livelihood. Dry season in Lan-ag is from November to April, and wet from May to October. Their main crops are rice and native vegetables. The prevalent farming method is uma or swidden farming which utilizes the slash and burn method. With insufficient irrigation and farming tools, the farming community can only plant rice once a year. Because of this, Lan-ag, with a population of 483 or 74 households, was experiencing food shortage (rice) for seven months a year. They used to buy rice from Bangued or borrow palay (unmilled rice) from neighboring communities which they would have to replace in the next harvest. And because the source of income is very limited, most households were borrowing money with an interest of 10 to 20 percent per month from usurers, salary earners and small merchants.

LFA pursues food security for the community by utilizing mutual help practices like Alluyon, Abuyug and other traditional practices. To achieve food security, they advocate the protection of their natural resources from any development aggression.

CDPC's project in Lan-ag, aimed to increase food production "through provision of basic socio-economic services and protection of the environment and natural resources," was based from the community's needs which were determined through baseline data research and consultation with community. Five staff members of CDPC initiated the project implementation by engaging the community leaders in organizing, education, training and research work in Lan-ag. The community organization and their leaders were involved in planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the project. Through this, an existing organization was transformed into a village-wide farmer's organization now known as Lan-ag Farmers' Association (LFA) by consolidating the community leaders and developing their leadership, organizing and management skills.

Socio-economic projects were introduced depending on the needs and priorities of the community and the capacity of the community organization to manage. Interspersed within the four years of implementation, CDPC, with the funding support of Belgian NGO New World, provided the community with socio-economic services such as farm tools distribution, irrigation assistance, water system improvement, seed dispersal, rice and corn mill construction. A cooperative store was put up and is managed by I-inna ti Lan-ag Organization (Organization of Mothers in Lan-ag).

To increase rice production, the community explored possible expansion areas suited for rice cultivation. After four years of implementation, rice fields were expanded by 2.5 hectares. Through the rehabilitation of the existing irrigation system and the provision of machines and farming tools, more rice fields were watered, cropping per year was increased to two for some rice fields, and more rice fields were cultivated.

LFA also established a palay trading cooperative to address the rice shortage in the community,. Every member contributes 15 to 20 bundles of palay every after harvest. The palay accumulated in the rice granary are made available for any member of the community to borrow. The borrower has to return the bundles of palay after next harvest with an additional bundle for every five bundles borrowed. Instead of going outside the community to buy rice or palay, the cooperative served as the central rice granary of the community.

As an active member of LFA, Jun-jun himself received trainings from CDPC. He is now the operator of the community's rice and corn mill. As an operator, he gets a minimal honorarium from the funds generated from the mill rental in addition to his income from rice farming.

As a result of these projects, the people of Lan-ag gained better access to socio-economic services and increased their food production. In the last quarter of 2007, rice production increased by as much as 38 percent. The seven months rice shortage was significantly reduced to four months.

Apart from socio-economic services, CDPC also encouraged the establishment and strenthening of different sectoral formations of women, youth and elders within the village-wide organization. Women's org headed by Jun-jun's wife are also engaged in activities to increase food production such as backyard vegetable gardening.

Potable water is now sufficient water for the use of every household. Sanitation in houses has improved. The cooperative made basic good affordable and accessible. Women and children are freed from the burden of manual rice pounding and fetching of drinking water from the springs.

Through network building, they were able to get the assistance of neighboring villages in the hauling of construction materials from the drop off point along the road to the community. The local governmeent unit (LGU) assisted in providing food for laborers during the project implementation. The LGU support was gained through their continuous campaign and alliance work to demand for support while CDPC assisted them in asserting their rights to basic services. The improvement of the school building, construction of the barangay road, and energizing the community was made possible by LFA's lobby efforts.

CDPC intervention in Lan-ag would not succeed without the commitment and determination of every member of the community to alleviate their living condition. Life in Lan-ag has improved, and Jun-jun doesn't need to leave the village to make life better for his family.

"Dakkel nga iyamanen mi kadakayo, ti CDPC, ken New World kadagiti amin nga intulong yo iti ili mi ket sapay koma ta di kay ma um-uma nga bumisita kadakami ( Our big thanks to you, CDPC and New World for all the help and services to our community and we hope that this would not be the last of your visit to our community)," he said.


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