How Families Have Been Uplifted Out of Extreme Poverty in Bukidnon
It is hard to imagine how a province known as the food basket in the Northern Mindanao region was considered one of the poorest in 2015. Bukidnon, with its majestic mountains spanning the Kitanglad Mountain Range and large swaths of land teeming with native pineapples and bananas, is undoubtedly rich in natural resources. But despite this seeming abundance, poverty incidence in Bukidnon was at its highest at 54.1 percent not more than six years ago.
Then came a dramatic shift in 2018 when the poverty rate in Bukidnon fell to 32.1 percent. The government attributed the decline to the increase in government spending and investments in infrastructure and social protection programs for the poor. While that may have been the case, there may be other factors at play, invisible hands working on the ground to help push for pro-poor programs and services for the communities who need them most.
It was in 2017 when the Del Monte Foundation, Inc. (DMFI), a local non-profit and the corporate social responsibility (CSR) arm of pineapple giant Del Monte Philippines, Inc. joined the Zero Extreme Poverty PH 2030 Movement. One with ZEP2030’s mission to help people out of poverty, DMFI volunteered to be a local convenor, starting with the municipality of Sumilao, one of the priority areas of ZEP2030 in Bukidnon and home to Del Monte Philippines’ locally grown pineapples. At the time ZEP2030 was initiated there, Sumilao, one of the most underserved communities in the province, was under the leadership of a local chief executive with a genuine development agenda.
Start small and learn as you go
As the ZEP2030 local convenor, DMFI formally presented the partnership to Sumilao Mayor Jose Antonio Villo and the barangay development council. They agreed to pilot ZEP2030’s programs and services to the poorest and smallest barangay of Kulasi in March 2018 before expanding to other remote barangays in Upper Culaman that same year. Soon, DMFI was replicating the ZEP2030 interventions to other barangays, assisting them in formulating and implementing their community development plans. The encouraging results from the initial cohort of barangays will later fuel DMFI’s desire to aim bigger and beyond their successful pilot in Sumilao.
“When we joined the ZEP2030 movement, we learned that there were only a handful of local convenors working on the ground and that everything was still a work in progress. And so, we learned by doing, seeking guidance, direction and support from the ZEP2030 Lead Convenors,” said Bella Quimpo, Executive Director of DMFI. What emerged was a model of partnership building that puts the CSO at the forefront, collaborating closely with the LGU.
Convergence-building in Sumilao
Piloting ZEP2030 in Sumilao has been a learning process. And it started as most community organizing often does, by securing the approval and support of the LGU — from the local chief executive, the Sangguniang Bayan down to the barangay councils. This came in the form of resolutions to implement ZEP2030 in each area. “We made the LGU our ZEP2030 partner and later on, DMFI was made a member of the Municipal Development Council of Sumilao. This was a big help in seeing the big picture of how resources are allocated and used in the town,” said Quimpo.
Their next important task was to gather baseline information in the eight barangays, specifically to map out the poor and vulnerable families who will be the target recipients of ZEP2030’s programs and services. DMFI tapped barangay volunteers to administer the ZEP2030 PPI survey to get a profile of the families in each barangay. The survey tool, originally written in English, was translated to Bisaya for it to be more effective. Volunteers were compensated for every family they interviewed. DMFI also hired an encoder to encode and consolidate the survey data to determine the extremely poor families. Survey results were later presented to local leaders and stakeholders for validation.
About 1,511 families were surveyed in the barangays of Kulasi, Licoan, Ocasion, Puntian, San Roque, Vista Villa, Lupiagan and Poblacion, which represent 40 per cent of the total number of households in the eight barangays. The results were further mapped against the five extreme poverty indicators of ZEP2030. For ZEP2030, a family is considered extremely poor if at least three of the five indicators (see Section 2 of the toolkit) are experienced by the family. For the surveyed barangays, 179 families or five per cent of the total household population were identified as extremely poor and in dire need of assistance.
The data generated from the survey guided the conduct of the Family and Community Visioning (FCV) workshop which included the community stakeholders and representatives of the families in extreme poverty. ZEP2030 Sumilao was the first to use the FCV module developed by the Association of Foundations (AF), a ZEP2030 Lead Convenor. They likewise conducted the Community Development Planning (CDP) workshop to help barangays formulate plans that reflect the needs and aspirations of their people and community. The CDPs were reviewed together with the Barangay Development Plans to ensure harmonization and alignment.
Matching community needs with the appropriate resources, interventions
As ZEP2030 local convenor, DMFI organized an engagement session with different stakeholders where the barangay leaders presented their respective community development plans and the support and resources needed from stakeholders to make them happen.
Representatives from the national and local government agencies and NGOs participated in the session and some pledged their support to implement the plans of the partner barangays. The CDPs and documentation of stakeholder pledges were given to the Municipal Planning and Development Office for follow-through and integration into the Municipal Development Council’s plans and budget.
This evidence-based and collaborative way of grassroots planning has proved effective in building stakeholder support to programs and services for the poor. ZEP2030 in Sumilao, facilitated by DMFI and AF, has partnered with the Coca-Cola Foundation Philippines, Inc. for the installation of a Level-2 water system that benefitted 154 households or 607 residents in Barangay Kulasi. For Quimpo, this was instrumental in ending extreme poverty in the barangay.
A functional water system is key in the provision of sanitary toilets which was made possible through collaboration with the LGU, the BLGU and the assisted families. The LGU provided sand and gravel and technical assistance, the community put in labor, DMFI provided the toilet bowls and other materials, and the BLGU supervised and monitored the project implementation. The joint project also provided potable water to Kulasi Elementary School, the day care center, and the health center. The water system improved sanitation and significantly reduced water-borne diseases.
To further ensure the health and wellbeing of barangay residents, DMFI donated basic medical apparatus to health centers. DMFI’s mobile clinic has also been providing medical care and medicines to the eight barangays.
In partnership with the Department of Agriculture (DA), the 179 identified families received vegetable seeds, fertilizers and technical skills on backyard vegetable gardening. The families were able to sell their vegetables during the weekly market day organized by the LGU for additional income.
In 2020, DMFI initiated “Pugad Baboy,” a hog-raising project with support from the DA, wherein 12 native pigs were donated in the establishment of backyard multiplier farms. Under the agreement with the community, families who did well in the Utanan sa Kabalayan project will be the first recipients. The families will in turn care, grow and breed the pigs and shall give back an offspring to the Foundation upon reproduction. This mechanism will help secure the project’s continuity and sustainability to benefit more families.
Other ZEP2030 interventions focused on the provision of livelihood skills and opportunities to women and Indigenous Peoples communities. The women of Kulasi planted the raw material sudsod along non-arable pineapple land that they would then sell to the association of mat weavers in Puntian and Ocasion. Mat weavers also sell their finished products to the Tagolwanen Women Weavers Association (TWWA) that has a showroom in Malaybalay. In another community, women were trained to make traditional IP beads that are sold at the local tourism center as well as the TWWA showroom.
To improve educational outcomes, DMFI donated learning materials and tables and chairs for classrooms and provided school repair assistance during Brigada Eskwela. The Foundation supports eight high school scholars, one from each barangay, with transportation and living allowances. In early 2020, DMFI also facilitated the construction of a dormitory in Upper Culaman high school annex so that students can have easy access to the national high school. This was done in partnership with the LGU through Angat Buhay, a program of the Office of Vice President Leni Robredo.
Establishing the ZEP2030 Bukidnon Convergence
Even during the pandemic, work continues for ZEP2030 in Bukidnon. In January 2021, they revisited the 179 extremely poor families to assess their conditions and were happy to learn that 120 families have improved conditions and are transitioning out of extreme poverty.
“We know that this is still a critical time and risks of sliding back is very high, but we see this result as concrete proof that when an organization like ours and other like-minded advocates work together in a concerted effort with the government, we can uplift families from extreme poverty,” said Quimpo.
The promising gains from the pilot interventions in Sumilao have prompted ZEP2030 to expand and accelerate in Bukidnon. DMFI and AF organized the first ZEP2030 Bukidnon Convergence meeting on 10 June 2021 with 15 participating organizations. DMFI proposed a sprint plan to the group for the next six months: from creating the convergence to seeking volunteer organizations to “adopt-a-town” as local convenors, and engaging the LGUs and other stakeholders. The participants expressed their support by leveraging their organizations’ presence, resources, programs/projects, and partners across the province.
By August 2021, collaborative efforts of the Bukidnon Convergence had taken off with other ZEP2030 members such as the Kasilak Development Foundation, Inc. and the Peace and Equity Foundation and their partners in the province to bring ZEP2030 to more municipalities. DMFI has also received approval from its Board to take on the local convenor role at the provincial level.