By: Noemi Beth G. Macario

Taken from BAHANDI, A collection of inspiring stories in Farming.

Then and now, he is always at war. However, the big difference is that where bloodshed is common in the former, now his war is against laziness, mediocrity and ignorance. Kumander Ismael of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has decided to go on a different warpath this time. But it is a war which is full of hope, enthusiasm and excitement. From leading his people to protest perceived or real injustices, he is again leading his people in an open classroom where he teaches them to become “learned” farmers.

It all started with the “Arms to Farms” program of the Agricultural Training Institute. The program is offering an alternative to rebels to give up their arms and go back to their farms. Tired of the endless battle and unresolved issues, Kumander Ismael in consultation with his men decided to give up their arms and partner with ATI. In the program, he was exposed to successful farms in Bukidnon. He was envious because he realized that his area is much bigger and flatter with good water source. He began to see possibilities like he never did before.

One stumbling block that he saw is their lack of technology. The ATI staff who went to his farm in Lininding, Munai were dismayed by the low level of technology that they observed. For example, he transplants his rice seedlings in 30 days without using markers, applies fertilizer anytime depending on availability, and since he has abundant water, his ricefield is also full of water from transplanting to harvest. Seeing all this, ATI invited him to a Training of Trainers on Rice Production with emphasis on the PalayCheck System held at Malaybalay City, Bukidnon. Kumander Ismael leapt at the chance unmindful of the 7-8 hours travel time weekly from his farm. He leaves his farm passing by very rough roads on a Tuesday and going back on a Saturday. This he did religiously for 4 months or for the whole training duration. After the 4-month training, the whole class visited successful farms in Negros Occidental. It reinforced his drive to go back in his farm and apply all the learnings that he received.

Presently, Kumander Ismael has put to good use the P 150,000 help that he received from ATI. He has started to lay out his farm improvements, establish a seedling nursery and plant coffee and cacao. What he is most proud of however, is that he is now a facilitator of the Farmer Field School on Rice Production with his farm as the demonstration site. When he first joined the TOT, he complained that it is easier to fire a gun than speak in front of an audience. But the training helped him gain confidence. As facilitator, he now talks and even lectures infront of the participants, a far cry from his early days as participant. The training had his men and neighbors as participants.

The results of training further cemented Kumander Ismael’s conviction that he made the right decision. His ricefield which is a little less than a hectare usually yield around 30 cavans. After just one cropping cycle, his yield increased to 64 cavans. Even his participants were amazed. Neighboring Kumanders have even expressed willingness to undergo training in PalayCheck due to the result of Kumander Ismael’s training.He has high hopes that like him, his men would go back to their farms, armed not only with technical skill but a heart full of hope and dreams for a better tomorrow. He will soldier on and fight this new war. He will serve as the light to his men, bringing them towards prosperity through the provision of knowledge they needed in farming.