By Henrylito D. Tacio
I am in the United States while writing this. I asked some friends here what comes to their mind when I say, “USAD” (yes, in capital letters). When used among friends, USAD (“you’re such a dork”) is not meant as an insult. Instead, it is used to tell a person that they are being “cheesy,” “airheaded,” or “naïve.”
But when used among strangers, USAD might be an insult – and it might even be meant to be read literally: “you sad.”
Among Tagalog speakers, usad (in small letters) means “move along” or “creep forward.” If someone describes you as usad-pagong, it means you are doing things in a turtle-like movement. During traffic, we hear some drivers saying, “Umuusad na rin ang mga kotse” (The cars finally moved forward).
If you come to Agusan del Sur, USAD – in capital letters again! – has a different meaning. It is an acronym for Upland Sustainable Agri-forestry Development (USAD) Convergence Program. It is the centerpiece program of the provincial government whose objective is to uplift the standard of living of farmers living in upland areas.
In the Philippine context, the uplands are rolling to steep lands, with slopes ranging upward from 18 percent. About 60 percent of the country’s total land area of 30 million hectares is considered uplands.
“The upland farmer faces a very dark future unless something can be done for him very soon,” observed Harold R. Watson, an American agriculturist who received the 1985 Ramon Magsaysay award for peace and international understanding. “He is the least educated, least paid, least healthy, least hopeful, and most neglected agricultural development of all people in the Philippines.”
Uplanders are referred to as “the poorest of the poor” in Philippine society since they survive below the poverty line level. The impoverished situation is reflected in their houses made of bamboo, tree bark, and cogon thatch roofing. Their sources of water are either mountain springs or streams.
The local government of Agusan del Sur knows this fact. USAD came into existence after the super typhoon Pablo (international name: Bopha) – the strongest tropical cyclone on record to ever affect Mindanao – struck the province in 2012. Most of the barangays hit by the Category 5 typhoon were destroyed.
In order for the uplanders to rise from the devastation, then Governor Adolph Edward “Eddiebong” Plaza, provided the affected upland farmers with farm inputs and proper technology.
USAD was launched immediately after the typhoon. It was piloted the following year with seven barangays in three municipalities.
“USAD Program aims to contribute to reducing poverty incidence of the province by providing access to various projects to upland communities through convergence approach and extending helping-hand to different offices in conducting various activities in the barangays under the program,” explained Maricar Prochina, the USAD focal person in-charge.
Farmers who joined the program are called “farmer enrollees.” “They were identified through a selection process based on the recent community-based monitoring system data,” said Prochina. Farmers who are recorded as “poor” were given priority to be enrolled in the program.
As members, they have the following privileges: receive farm inputs and materials from planting up to production stage and undergo capacity development in terms of training, seminars, and benchmarking, among others. They are also provided with market linkages for their produce.
As enrollees, however, farmers have some responsibilities. Aside from their willingness to be part of the program, they should be willing to make a counterpart for the maintenance and sustainability of the project given to them.
They have also to follow the production technologies introduced to them. In addition, they should not, in any way, do something that could damage and harm the given project. In case the farmer enrollee needs to sell or dispose of the given project, he or she needs to consult and inform the focal person-charge first.
In 2021, USAD was chosen as one of the Top 10 Outstanding Local Governance Programs in the country.
“This recognition is not only a testament to the hard work and strong collaboration of local government units, various government agencies and farmer-enrollees, but it is also an inspiration to launch more innovative programs that will improve people’s lives,” said Plaza, now a District 2 Representative of Agusan del Sur, of the recognition.
Early this month, a two-day Mindanao forum was held in Agusan del Sur. The objective of the forum was to showcase the best practices of USAD in reducing poverty incidence in the province.
In his speech, Governor Santi B. Cane, Jr. described USAD as a “transformative program,” which can be used as “a weapon against poverty.” He told the participants who attended the forum that USAD has “far registered an outstanding 88.8% success rate.”
Mel Sarmiento, Gawad Pook Chairperson, who attended the forum urged the participants “to reflect on USAD” as he lauded it “as a showcase of true devolution, excellence, innovation, and resourcefulness.”
For her part, Beth Lopez de Leon, assistant secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) gave credits to the provincial government of Agusan del Sur “for developing a social innovation which improved public service delivery.”
At the end of the forum, representatives from 14 of the 28 provinces of Mindanao signed a resolution for the passage of House Bill 3489, or an act establishing the USAD program in upland farms throughout the country. – ###
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