Bill seeks to grant microfinancing for BARMM’s marginalized farmers, fisherfolk 

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 26 May) — A bill seeking the establishment of a government microfinance program for small farmers and fisherfolk in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), has been filed in the Bangsamoro Parliament. 

“Agriculture is a vital sector in BARMM, providing livelihood to about 70% of the region’s population. However, small-scale farmers and fisherfolk who comprise the majority of the sector face various challenges that hinder their productivity and income,” said Amir Mawallil, one of the principal authors of Parliamentary Bill 184 or the proposed “Bangsamoro Agricultural Microfinance Act of 2023.”

In his explanatory note, Mawallil said the measure aims to promote “financial inclusion” by reaching out to the unbanked and underserved communities in rural areas who have limited access to credit, have inadequate infrastructure, insufficient market linkages and suffer from low productivity due to outdated farming practices and the climate crisis as well. As a result, he said, the region’s agricultural sector is “underdeveloped and has not realized its full potential.”

Moro women harvest rice at the village of Liong in Datu Piang, Maguindanao in this file photo by Ruby Thursday More/MindaNews

BARMM comprises the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao del Norte and Maguindanao del Sur; the cities of Marawi, Cotabato and Isabela; and the Special Geogrpahic Area comprising 63 villages in six North Cotabato towns that voted for inclusion in the BARMM in 2019. 

Filed on May 25, the bill is authored by Mawallil and Members of Parliament Rasol Mitmug, Sittie Fahanie S. Uy-Oyod, Hashemi Dilangalen and Hamid Malik, and co-authored by Laisa Alamia, Baintan Ampatuan, Don Mustapha A. Loong, Suharto Ambolodto and Rasul Ismael. 

The bill seeks to mandate the Bangsamoro government through the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Agrarian Reform (MAFAR) to establish a Regional Agricultural Microfinance Program that will provide microfinance services to farmers and other smallholders in the region.  MAFAR will disburse the fund to qualified applicants. 

Mawallil said the program will be financed from various sources, including the Bangsamoro government budget, grants, donations, concessional loans, and loans from commercial banks and other financial institutions. “MAFAR shall ensure that the funds are utilized efficiently, effectively, and transparently,” Mawallil said.

Mawallil cited the need for financial inclusion, citing records from the Philippine Statistices Authority that only 16.5% of the households in BARMM have savings accounts, while 83.5% do not have any form of savings.

“This indicates the need to improve financial inclusion in the region, particularly in rural areas where most small-scale farmers and fisherfolks reside … The program will adopt various measures to ensure that the beneficiaries are reached, and the services are delivered to them effectively,” he said. 

“These measures include the use of mobile technology and digital platforms for delivering microfinance services to rural communities, the establishment of community-based microfinance institutions, and the conduct of capacity-building programs to enhance the financial management skills of the community leaders and members,” he said. (MindaNews)