COTABATO CITY, Philippines - Efforts to restore normalcy in conflict-devastated areas in Maguindanao got another push with the visit to the province of an envoy from New Zealand and representatives from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to distribute farm inputs and tools.


New Zealand Ambassador Reuben Levermore and FAO’s representative to the Philippines, Kazuyuki Tsurumi were accompanied by officials of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, led by Dr. John Magno, when they toured and met with local leaders last Jan. 17.


Magno, who is chief-of-staff of ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman, told The Star Wednesday that Levermore and Tsurumi were briefed by officials of the regional Agriculture Department on activities of the ARMM government for ethnic Maguindanaon farmers.


There is fragile peace now in Maguindanao, apparently ushered in by the continuing peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.


The MILF has dozens of government-recognized enclaves in Maguindanao. The rebel group’s main bastion, Camp Darapanan, is located in Sultan Kudarat town in the second district of the province.


Levermore and Tsurumi also met with farmers in Barangay Madia in Datu Saudi town, one of the municipalities badly affected by military-MILF hostilities in recent years.

The two dignitaries led the distribution of farm tools and other inputs, such as seeds and fertilizers to local Moro beneficiaries in Barangay Madia.


The FAO and the ARMM’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries have been providing farmers in conflict-devastated areas in Maguindanao with livelihood technology, including the use of organic fertilizers using ingredients that are readily available in their surroundings.


Both dignitaries were also taught by local farmers, led by a government agriculturist, Nanding Sayutin, on how to produce organic fertilizers in a brief show while in Barangay Madia.


Magno said Levermore and Tsurumi also got insights on the "dividends" being enjoyed now by the public from President Benigno Aquino III’s peace overtures with the MILF.


There has been a “zero” encounter between MILF forces and the military in Maguindanao the past 16 months owing to the tight enforcement in the province by the joint ceasefire committee of the 1997 Agreement on General Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities.


The GPH-MILF peace negotiations, which started Jan. 7, 1997, are being assisted by foreign governments and international peace advocacy outfits fused together as the International Contact Group, whose involvement in the talks has written imprimatur from both sides.


The spokesman of the mayors’ league in Maguindanao, Northern Kabuntalan Mayor Ramil Dilangalen, said the engagement of Levermore and Tsurumi with local farming sectors was a tacit indication that the province has gradually been reeling off from the adverse effects of armed conflicts.


“All of these developments in the security situation in Maguindanao is a result of the cooperation of all sectors, the provincial government, the league of mayors, the police, the military and the MILF in working together to make the Mindanao peace process succeed,” Dilangalen said.