Residents of Barangay Mampang, through WFP’s Food-for-Work, were able to plant 5 million mangroves- helping not only themselves, but the environment as a whole.
Photo Credit: WFP Philippines/ Dale Rivera
Through WFP's Food-for-Work, residents of Barangay Mampang in Zamboanga City were able to plant 5 million mangroves- ensuring the revival of the sanctuaries for fishes and migratory birds as well as providing propagules for the Office of the City Agriculturist.
‘My neighbours would ask me, “Who in their right minds would give out food in exchange for work?” I tell them, “We would not lose anything in trying.”’
It was a bright morning in Barangay Mampang in Zamboanga City. Community leader Maribel Barbera eagerly looks out of their humble community center wearing a buri hat and a big smile. This very animated Maribel is a far cry from the Maribel of five months ago, when the conflict first struck their barangay.
“The war passed by here. There was a military officer who was held hostage. Our houses were peppered with bullets,” Maribel recalls. “Everyone was affected. There is no work. There is no food. Even if you have money, there is no food available to buy! ”
Maribel, 36, is a mother of four. Her family, like most of the residents of Barangay Mampang, are seaweed farmers. It was during the harvest and replanting season when the conflict started and they had to be forced-evacuated. Whole farms were abandoned and have been destroyed. The seaweeds went past their scheduled harvest dates. “We were supposed to replant that day. Seaweeds are spoiled when not planted immediately. We were not able to plant anything. Zero,” Maribel recounts.
Rehabilitation of their seaweed farms has taken a considerable amount of time in which case the residents needed an alternative source of income. To address this concern, many initiatives are being introduced by the Office of Agriculture of the City Government of Zamboanga, not only in Mampang, but in all of the conflict-affected areas. It was through one of these initiatives that the City Government and the World Food Programme(WFP)introduced Food-for-Work projects, where residents of conflict-affected areas are introduced to alternative livelihoods in their transitory sites (where they are evacuated) or at off-sites (conflict-affected areas where the people have started returning after evacuation), in exchange for food and/or rice.
One of such projects is the planting of mangroves, which involved three coastal barangays in Zamboanga City. Residents are given one sack of rice in exchange for cleaning and planting mangroves on coastal lands that are previously unused and have been damaged by conflict. Several orientation seminars were held to prepare and educate the community regarding mangrove planting and continuous training ensured that the community are now somewhat of an expert in mangroves and mangrove ecology.
At the end of the intervention, a total of 6000 families were given assistance, 2,500 of which are from Mampang. These 6,000 families, in turn, were able to cover planting 502 hectares of mangrove areas, which is equivalent to an astonishing 5 million mangroves.
Alexander Luciano, 50, recalls how their community was at first, reluctant to participate in the project. “Nobody believed us initially. We had to convince them that we will, indeed, be given rice in exchange for work,” he says. “But when we did, everyone was really enthusiastic. We helped each other!”
Although badly damaged during the conflict, Barangay Mampang is now a source of mangrove propagules for the Office of Agriculture in Zamboanga. These mangroves are now also slowly helping in the revival of the fish sanctuaries in the area and, with it, sanctuaries for migratory birds who passes by during their migration.
The residents have long since returned to their original livelihood, but they cannot forget the one time they learned of a different kind of work. For Maribel and Alexander, it is not only about getting food. “Our community is very active in participating in all these projects. We tell ourselves, these people are helping us. We should also help ourselves! We must not lose hope,” Maribel says.
Hope is, indeed, a talisman of strength for these people who are determined to get back on their feet, while at the same time eager to help their government and the environment.