Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

Overcoming labour issues through indigenous knowledge (Philippines case study)

My chosen case study is the following:


To improve soil erosion and poor soil fertility, the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) introduced agroforestry measures. But because the measures were labour-intensive, they were being adopted only slowly. After a visit to a similar project, the farmers themselves suggested forming traditional mutual-help groups for the agroforestry work. These groups are called "hunglunan" in Albay province, "alayon" in Cebu, and "tropa" in Cavite. They usually consist of four to six members, but sometimes up to 10 or more members, who help one another with labour-intensive agricultural activities such as land preparation, planting, weeding, and harvesting. Members also help one another for fiestas, weddings and other social events. The local labour groups formed for the project were crucial in implementing the agroforestry measures. The use of local approaches and the fact that the groups were formed by the farmers themselves were important factors. Experience in many development projects has shown that groups introduced by outsiders seldom survive for long.

The sustainability depends very much on the project for which it is used. For example, if people do not find the agroforestry measures useful, they will leave the mutual-help groups. Another factor probably influencing sustainability is whether the groups formed themselves according to their own criteria or whether the groups were imposed by outsiders. Local people initiated the practice and were familiar with it. Local labour-sharing arrangements can be used as an effective tool for making labour-intensive activities more acceptable."

Key Learning Points:

First of all, I would like to highlight that the initiative was suggested by the local farmers themselves - more often than not, commitment for something that comes in the "top-down" approach is relatively low from the side of the local community. If their initiatives are taken, they feel being involved in decision making, they feel that they are important, and that their knowledge and ideas are appreciated. Thus, they will put much more effort into bringing results, because they feel it also being their own success.

The second important point, in my opinion, is the point of local people working together. We tend to forget that "together we achieve more", and this initiative is encouraging cooperation, instead of competition and isolation. If locals realize that they shall work together and support each other, hopefully that approach and attitude will slowly more on to other parts of our societies as well, bringing more peace into our communities.

The third point I would like to mention is the effect itself: generating more labour by such a simple solution. Very often this is the way to go, when we look at social problems, to find simple solutions, using local initiatives and involvement, however, as we tend to look for more complicated solutions, we do not find the right ones. See the simple case: there was a shortage of labour, while at the same time we have loads of people not having (enough) job to do. So why not re-allocate and re-organize the way we work and bring the need and the supply together? Simple ways with a great impact.

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