Feature: Will food aid bring peace?
By Mai Gevera
Davao City (30 June) -- A P700 million assistance is set to be poured in some conflict-affected areas in Mindanao with the primary objective of resolving conflict through food aid under the World Food Programme (WFP).
Launched early this month, the food program has already been receiving various reactions from the different sectors in the society.
In its project background, the assistance seeks to support the peace process in Mindanao by addressing food security needs in conflict -affected areas. The total budget will target the resettlement of 1,200 vulnerable internally-displaced persons; 822,000 beneficiaries living in conflict areas; 3,000 patients under treatment for tuberculosis; and 4,000 ex-combatants and demobilized soldiers.
However, the Food Sovereignty Watch, an active civil group which is highly focused on the food sector, raises some concerns.
"We question the very objective of the project which is to contribute resolution of the conflict in Mindanao. How will it achieve its objective when it is only designed to be implemented for 12 months?", said FSW spokesperson Socorro Requiza.
FSW claimed that providing assistance to a group of internally-displaced persons for a short period of time is not addressing the problem on a long-term scale, rather, it would only pacify some desperate people through food aid.
The said group seeks to gather the side of the IDPs as to how these target beneficiaries see the problem as well as the food aid programme.
In a statement, the same group insisted that the widespread poverty, injustice and minoritization particularly of the Moro and the indigenous peoples in Mindanao which is the major cause of the conflict in the island cannot be resolved by a one-year food distribution. The malnutrition of children, pregnant women and lactating women cannot be resolved by a three-month feeding program; likewise, tuberculosis cannot be cured with just a feeding scheme.
The group is also concern about the development of a "dole-out mentality" that is expected to arise within the one-year food distribution.
"It is a sad fact that any food aid project instills the dole-out mentality which encourages beneficiaries to depend on others for their sustenance and this is worse when there is no actual emergency or food shortage situation in targeted areas" the group said.
Instead, the group modeled the operation of existing non-government and people's organizations which have been assisting communities to have sustainable livelihoods and meet their food needs not dependent on aid but through long term capacity building, self-organization, cooperativism, sustainable agriculture trainings, and so forth.
The FWS recognizes the clean intention of the said project in helping resolve conflict in Mindanao.
However, it suggests that any food aid project that supports peace building efforts must be integrated under a comprehensive plan aimed not only meeting peoples' health and nutritional needs but also sustaining their livelihood and providing all the necessary financial and infrastructure support. This is the only way to achieve long-term peace based on justice in Mindanao.
Economic-wise, another concern came up as to how the entry of food aid would add to the dampening of rice and palay prices and worsen the poverty situation of rice farmers in the targeted provinces.
This scenario is highly expected by the group especially that the targeted provinces of WFP's project are rice-producing areas accounting for 41.6 percent of the total rice production of Mindanao in 2005.
"We are expecting that it would really kill our local farmers," Requiza said.
During the launching, it was reported that project heads are planning that some food commodities will be purchased locally. However, WFP will still have to research the sustainability of local food products and availability of stocks in the country.
"These are the major concerns we have been seeing on this project. We simply hope that before the full blown implementation of the program, project heads would consider these concerns of the people-beneficiaries," Requiza said.
FWS is organizing a forum with the beneficiaries to get their side as well as their suggestion that are worth considering in the project implementation. (PIA) [top]