In August 2015, Impl. Project began data mapping Maguindanao Province, Philippines to identify a community facing challenging dynamics in which Impl. Project could test its core hypothesis: by using precise, structured local data and localized programmatic solutions, could we create successful impacts in the development morass that is the southern Philippines? After assessing four other locations, we happened upon a vulnerable but famous community in Mindanao: Camp Abubakar Siddique, Barira, Maguindanao. This community was the traditional home base of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and saw some of the bloodiest fighting during the all-out war in 2000.
All the communities in which we surveyed and conducted assessments demonstrated varying level of vulnerability and instability, but only Barira had a community that signaled the lack of security as a priority grievance. In other words, Maguindanawan communities have a very high tolerance for insecurity. They have lived among it most of their lives. When one of the communities reports that lack of security is primary issue, even with their high threshold, it means that significant dynamics are at play, and that these dynamics are so acute that the community itself is unable to manage it, resulting in the outbreaks of violence.
Armed with the survey data we had gathered, we began our vetting and validation process by conducting site assessments and gathering the qualitative data which we would integrate with our quantitative data set. We started at the school as it is the first major building you come across when driving into this community. As we look in on the kids at school, we noticed a surprising trend: after 6th grade, the number of girls vastly exceeded the number of boys per grade.
When we asked the 9th grade teacher why there was such a disparity, she replied, “The farms are failing, so the farmers pull the boys out of school for added labor.” We asked if she would convene a focus group for us that day with all the teachers to discuss this trend.
During the focus group, we delved deeper into the dynamics driving out-of-school youth (OSY). Most of the teachers acknowledged that it was difficult to keep boys in school if they were not from well-off families. Farmers desperately need extra hands for planting and harvesting, and for making cinder blocks which were sold as a side business. I then asked the teachers what the boys did after their daily work was done. “They’re pretty depressed and sad because they have no good opportunities. Many have started smoking shabu (methamphetamine) to feel better.”
“Wait a minute, does that meth trade have anything to do with the lack of security many people in your community are concerned about?”
“Of course, what other security issues did you think we had? Our issues with the military are long past now. These boys, they’re stealing livestock to pay for their shabu. They get in gun fights with our neighbors, creating blood feuds between the clans.” The interconnectedness of these issues began to emerge.
The following day we convened a focus group of farmers to understand why their farms are failing. “We need help with everything: seeds, storage, processing, livestock, and access to capital,” one of the farmers admitted. “Sure, but what is most critical right now? What are you unable to solve yourselves?”
“We are losing 20-30% of every harvest to rot because we have no place to dry or store our corn and rice.” Most of the farmers nodded in agreement. “Once we’ve harvested, the wholesalers come from Parang and offer us 50% of the value of our crop, knowing that we cannot dry or store what we’ve harvested. We cannot withstand the price shocks immediately after the harvest, we have no way to store the harvested goods until prices stabilize, and if we wait to sell our harvest to the wholesalers, it’s likely that the rain will rot most of the crops. We cannot win.”
Impl. Project then described its methodology for programming: we needed to create a community governance institution by which this community would propose projects, and through which we would implement these projects and monitor dynamics in the village. The citizens of Abubakar agreed, and so the Abubakar Siddique Multipurpose Cooperatives was established.
The mission of the community cooperative was simple: incentivize the community to work together on their shared issues of economic vulnerability. The incentives came in the form of trainings and projects, with the cooperative nominating, designing, and voting on which projects would be funded for the benefit of all. Because local governments in the Mindanao, and across the world, are unable or unwilling to practice good governance, local communities must figure out how to govern themselves in the absence of goods and services by the government. The Abubakar Siddique Multipurpose Cooperative was designed from the beginning to incentivize positive collective action in the community, and inclusiveness for women and marginalized youth that did not have a discernable voice in the affairs of the community.
We relayed to them that we only had raised enough funds for one initial project, so they needed to choose wisely what that project would be, and what would deliver the most value to all. Almost unanimously, the cooperative members voted for Impl. Project to build a large solar dryer. Not knowing what a solar dryer was, I asked the members to clarify why this project is so critical. “It’s just a big slab of concrete on which we’ll dry our corn and rice. This is what will prevent the crop rot, but we don’t have the money to pay for this ourselves.
Asking the members to formally prepare a proposal, budget, and design, Impl. Project returned a few months later to troubleshoot the project and create the final plan. The Armed Forces of the Philippines contributed labor and earth moving equipment to support the project, one of the first times the military had conducted a civilian-military project in recent memory. Construction of the solar dryer was completed in July 2016, just in time for the August-September corn harvest.
Over 40% of the farmers in the cooperative used the solar dryer, governed by the rules the cooperative itself designed to manage the demand for this resources. Cooperative members without corn or rice were able to sell their tickets to farmers with an abundance of crops, creating an informal market for all to get increased income from the project. During that harvest, over 5 tons of corn were preserved and sold for profit. This led to many of the cooperative members reinvesting that money into cash crops (cacao and papaya) and new businesses. Abubakar Siddique was at the height of its strength and cohesion, with the majority of families benefitting from the influx of capital.
Just to the north of Barira was the safe haven for the Islamic State – Ranao in Butig, Lanao del Sur. The Philippine military pushed the terrorist group out of Butig in December of 2016, forcing them into the mountains of northern Barira. IS-Ranao, searching for a new safe haven among the Muslim communities in Barira, sent an emissary to Abubakar Siddique to receive protection and safe haven. However, the cooperative members, knowing that the MOU between Impl Project and their cooperative explicitly stated that support was conditional on not allowing safe haven to extremist groups, rebuffed IS-Ranao, telling them to return to Butig. IS-Ranao then threatened the community with violence if they did not acquiesce. However, this community had spent nearly a year and a half working together to solve communal problems and had just enjoyed the strongest harvest in memory due to the solar dryer. In a demonstration of local resiliency, the community reached out to the local MILF commander, a man known for his fairness and honesty, and pleaded with him to push out the terrorists. The MILF interceded on behalf of the community and pushed IS-Ranao back into Butig, making it clear that Barira would not tolerate the violence and instability that accompanied the Islamic State.
Today the Abubakar Siddique Multipurpose cooperative is thriving. Membership has almost doubled. We’ve seen a 63% increase in boys attending high school. Security incidents have dropped to nearly zero. And the community has enjoyed a 283% increase in microenterprise since the founding of the cooperative. Impl. Project will soon complete Phase II of its programming, a storehouse for the women to manage the cooperative and act as wholesalers for farmers in the surrounding areas, breaking the choke hold that wholesalers in Parang kept on farmers in the region.
In the midst of the chaos created by Islamic State affiliates throughout Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, the Abubakar Siddique Multipurpose Cooperative stands as a clear case that effective resiliency programming, based on precise local data and designed in partnership with the target community, can inoculate populations against the factors that drive radicalization and instability.