COTABATO CITY, Philippines - Eleven Maguindanao towns and a public school received on Monday farm tools, chemical sprayers, assorted vegetable seeds, and organic fertilizers as initial logistical tranche for a province-wide gardening project involving housewives and school children.


Dubbed “Gulayan sa Maguindanao,” the project, to be tested in the 11 towns and at the Mangudadatu Elementary School in Mangudadatu town in the second district of Maguindanao, is parallel with the activities of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.


The project aims to take advantage of the now improving security situation in Maguindanao, which provincial and OPAPP planners said can help encourage Maguindanaon women and school children to engage in backyard “food sufficiency efforts” without disruption.


“Our people were not motivated to engage in this kind of project in the past because even before they can harvest, armed conflicts occur. They move to evacuation sites and when they return home they find their gardens destroyed,” said Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu.


Mangudadatu led Monday’s release, in a simple rite in Buluan town, of the farm tools, assorted vegetable seeds, chemical sprayers and “environment-friendly organic fertilizers” to the municipal agricultural officers of the 11 recipient towns.

The 11 towns - Rajah Buayan, South Upi, Datu Saudi, Sultan sa Barongis, Buluan, Talitay, Parang, Buldon, Barira, Matanog, and North Upi - are hosts to government-acknowledged enclaves of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.


Mangudadatu said the gardening project is in support of the Masagana at Mapayapang Pamayanan program of the office of OPAPP chief Teresita Quintos-Deles.


Deles and the office of Mangudadatu have more than a dozen projects in Maguindanao, mostly involving impoverished Moro communities in far-flung areas.


North Upi, which is Maguindanao’s top producer of corn, was represented in the launching of the Gulayan sa Maguindanao by women representing the area’s Moro, Teduray and Christian sectors led by Amelita Piang, spouse of the incumbent mayor of the municipality, Ramon Piang.


An ethnic Teduray timuay (chieftain), Mayor Piang, who is a member of the government panel negotiating with the MILF, said indigenous, non-Muslim groups in Maguindanao have a centuries-old tradition of maintaining gardens in their farms, but peace and security constraints have overtaken the practice, which requires continued stay in their tribal enclaves.


“Because we have peace now, it’s good to let our people have their gardens again. There is certainty they would no longer have to abandon their villages and leave their gardens because the government-MILF talks continue to gain momentum,” Piang said.


A staff of Mangudadatu, Lea Sagan, who is overseeing all projects of OPAPP in Maguindanao, said they are to expand the Gulayan sa Maguindanao projects in other towns in the province soon.