By Mario Casayuran
The proposed “Balik Probinsya” (Back to the Province) program might further revitalize the country’s anemic agricultural sector as many city dwellers are reintegrated in the countryside where idle, fertile lands could be developed.
Senator Christopher Lawrence ‘’Bong’’ Go, the brains behind this program, said the offshoot of the plan is the further revitalization and progress of the agricultural sector.
“If we can come up with other complementary programs promoting agriculture among those who are reintegrated in the provinces through the Balik Probinsya program, naniniwala po ako na hindi ito malayong mangyari,’’ he added. (I believe that this is not far from happening.)
President Duterte, Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary William Dar, and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon M. Lopez strongly supported the Go program as a means of decongesting densely populated areas such as Metro Manila. The program is expected to take off after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis is over.
Go observed that there is a decreasing number of farmers and fishermen in the country because many of them are too old to work in the fields and in the seas and also due to the migration of workers from the countryside to urban centers.
He said he noticed that although a lot of the children of these aging farmers and fishers prefer to work in the cities, they usually end up as factory workers, laborers, household help, sales girls—most of them earning below the minimum wage rates.
Go said that the depleting number may be augmented through the implementation of a “Balik Probinsya” program, coupled with supporting agricultural programs.
“We must entice a new generation of farmers to go back to our agricultural roots. Kaya naman po napakaraming programa patungkol sa agrikultura ang ating isinusulong upang makatulong po sa muling pagpapaunlad ng pagsasaka at pangingisda sa bansa,’’ he added. (This is the reason why we are pushing for more programs that will support farming and fishing in the country.)
“We have to make agriculture and aquaculture more promising again to attract young farmers and fishers to these industries,” he added.
Even before becoming a senator, Go said he has been pushing for a much needed boost to agriculture in the country.
Among his proposals include the continued provision of more inputs for farmers, such as seeds, fertilizers, machineries, and trainings on scientific and climate resilient farming methods to increase agricultural productivity in the country.
“Kung matuturuan sila kung paano maparami pa ang kanilang ani, mas marami silang mabebenta, mas magiging malaki ang kanilang kita. Hindi malayong mas malaki pa ang kanilang kikitain kaysa kung naging kargador o kasambahay lang sila sa Maynila,’’ he explained.
(If we can teach them how to increase their harvest, they will earn more and increase their incomes better than being a helper or a housemaid in Manila.)
To support his proposed Balik Probinsya program, concerned government agencies may explore the idea of providing more scholarships and even trainings abroad for Filipino farmers so they can learn the best practices on farming, such as the kibbutz system in Israel.
Barangay Agriculture may also be incorporated in the basic education curriculum to inculcate love of farming among Filipino students at a young age.
“If government can conduct and offer more free skills trainings, livelihood seminars to convert the non-working wives and other members of the families of our farmers and fishers, perhaps we can also make them become ‘agripreneurs’. This could be part of government’s more aggressive support for MSME (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) development, this time focusing on the agriculture sector,” he explained.
Dar seconded Go’s statements and expressed his support to the “Balik Probinsya” program as a way to strengthen the country’s agriculture.
In a statement, Dar said, “This is now the time to plan properly, this one as part of our recovery program for the rural areas. We have to turn these opportunities “na may economic opportunity din doon sa mga areas nai-resettle natin. So, i-tie up dapat natin doon sa mga rural industries na pwede nating i-invite na madevelop based doon sa competitive advantage ng area (…with economic opportunity too in areas where we resettle them. So, it should be tied up with the rural industries that we can invite to develop based on the competitive advantage of the area).”
“It’s a whole-of-nation approach… Maganda kung maumpisahan, pero mas maganda pa kung may batas ito para may suporta tayo (…It is better if this can be started, but it is much better if there is a corresponding law that can support us). The proposed measure will further boost government efforts to attain higher levels of food security,” Dar further stated.
Go then emphasized the need to boost food security in the country by ensuring that there are enough number of farmers and fishers who will do the farming and fishing in the country.
“Sa tulong po nitong Balik Probinsya program at mga programang pang-agrikultura, positibo po tayo na mas maraming mae-engganyo na bagong farmers at fishers sa bansa,’’ he said. (With the help of this Balik Probinsya progarm and other agricultural programs, we are positive that we can encourage new farmers and fishers in the country.)
Go earlier stressed the need to speed up the development of the countryside by veering away from a centralized approach to governance through a proposed “Balik-Probinsya” program as congestion in Metro Manila proves to be a significant factor in the high number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in urban areas. Citing latest data from the Department of Health, almost 70 percent of COVID-19 infection cases are from the National Capital Region (NCR).
“Habang patuloy nating nilalabanan ang COVID-19, pinaghahandaan na rin natin ang ‘new normal’ kung saan kaya nating harapin ang epekto ng krisis na ito sa ekonomiya at sa pang-araw araw natin na buhay. Nais nating siguraduhin na makakaahon ang bansa at magiging mas handa sa anumang krisis na darating,’’ he said. (As we continue to fight the COVID-19, we are also preparing for the “new normal” as we face the effect of this crisis to the economy and to our daily lives. We will ensure that the country will be able to recover and more prepared for whatever crisis that may come in the future.)
Go said the government is now preparing for the implementation of the Balik Probinsya program as a viable solution to these challenges.