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Philippines: Community-Driven Agrarian Reform Speeds Up Land Transfer, Improves Farmers' Lives In Samal Island

July 26, 2011

  • Resistance from landowners has prevented the completion of land distribution in some areas of the country
  • CMARPRP allows landowners and tenants to directly negotiate land transfers to speed up the land distribution process
  • The program sped up land redistribution and improved the lives of farmers through cost-effective land market transactions

Island Garden City of Samal, July 27, 2011—Leodegario Colarte, 53, a farmer and father of four, is a contented man. Although he works hard from dawn till dusk, he is happy because he now owns the 1.3 hectare farm land he has been tilling for decades as a tenant— thanks, he says, to an innovative pilot community-based agrarian reform project that made the process of transferring the land to his name a lot easier and faster.

Mr. Colarte raises goats and produces vermicast (organic fertilizer from worm manure) that he uses to fertilize his coconut trees to increase yield as well as sells to fellow farmers to augment his incomes. “In the past, when we were just tenants, much of the fruit of our hard work simply accrued to the landowner. Now, all of the harvest is ours; I only need to set aside some money to amortize the land,” he says.

He obviously earns well as a smallholder because he doesn’t miss paying his monthly amortization. He even pays in advance, he says. He is also able to send all his children to school, one of whom is in college. “I work hard because I know I’m fulfilling my dream of having land that I can call my own,” he says.

In a few more years, he will finish amortizing the land and get his title, the final step in freeing himself from tenancy.

Innovative approach

There are more than 600 farmers all over the country like Colarte who have benefitted from an innovative approach to agrarian reform, a pilot initiative called Community-Managed Agrarian Reform for Poverty Reduction Project (CMARPRP) financed by a US$2 million grant from the Japan Social Development Fund (JSDF) administered by the World Bank.

Under the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program which has been in place since the 1980s, the government—as part of its rural poverty alleviation and social justice agenda—requires landowners to transfer ownership of their lands to their tenants.

In return, the government compensates the landowners through cash and bonds payable in ten years. Agrarian reform beneficiaries receive their certificates of land ownership award (CLOA)—formerly called ‘emancipation patents’—and pay amortization to the government through the Land Bank of the Philippines in 30 annual payments, after which they get their land titles.

The core idea behind the Bank-supported CMARPRP is to make the landowners and tenants talk directly to one another with the help of the local governments, the expectation being that community-driven land market transactions are more cost-effective, faster and more beneficial to beneficiaries.

But there are important requirements under the CMARPRP, says Mr. Manuel Rufo, Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer of Samal Island. Beneficiaries, he said, should learn negotiating skills, better farming technologies, as well as entrepreneurship so they can negotiate with landowners successfully as well as improve their lives. Beneficiaries must be provided infrastructure and support services like rural roads, warehouses, solar dryers and irrigation so that their lives will improve and their incomes are sufficient to pay their amortization. The provision of support services under CMARPRP is, in fact, conditioned on the success of the negotiations, an incentive for both the landowners and tenants to reach agreement.

Impressive results

The CMARPRP process in Samal began in 2003 and was completed four years after. About 80 farmer beneficiaries now own 78 hectares. It helped that the city government advanced 70 percent of the payment to former landowners through bridge financing, thus speeding up the land transfer. In turn, the beneficiaries agreed to pay amortization to the city government for a shorter period of 15 years.

“Most of the landowners are now fully paid,” says Mr. Cleto Bravo Gales, Jr., City Administrator of Samal Island.

“Beneficiaries are amortizing their land and some have even paid in full within just about five years.”

“I feel good. I no longer have anything to worry about,” smiles Ms. Catalina Bulod, 71 years old and a mother of ten, who recently completed payment for her half-hectare land. Higher incomes derived from diversified farming (bananas, rice, coconuts, mango and swine-raising) empowered her to complete amortization payments in just a few years.

“When some people heard that the local government was providing close to Php3 million in bridge financing for the project, they thought we were crazy,” recounts Mr. Gales.

“But it’s money well spent,” he says, because besides achieving social justice, the project has brought in a lot of infrastructure and support services that have benefitted not only the direct beneficiaries but the larger Samal Island community: a small water irrigation system worth Php2 million, rehabilitation of a barangay (village) road worth Php6 million, and the construction of a warehouse and solar dryer for the farmers worth PhP2.4 million. Says Mr. Gales, “In this project, everybody wins.”