By Mario Casayuran
Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go today emphasized the need to invest more in the weak agriculture sector and promote household food security in the countryside, ensuring that the basic needs of the beneficiaries of the “Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa Program” (BP2) are sustained once they are relocated to their home provinces.
Go, chairman of the Senate health and demography committee said that this is a good time to decongest Metro Manila by creating opportunities outside the overpopulated metropolis, especially for the urban poor who wish to relocate to the countryside.
“There are still hundreds of hectares of agricultural lands and unlimited water resources that can be utilized for livelihood in the provinces. Agriculture and food security play a big role in regional development,” Go explained.
“Let us provide the urban poor [with] the needed opportunities to have a sustainable livelihood in the provinces if they decide to relocate, since they are one of the most vulnerable sectors of our society amid this COVID-19 pandemic as well as in times of other calamities,” he added.
To accomplish this task, the senator from Davao urged the Agriculture department to further develop food security programs—this time, focused on household food security—as the government prepares for more Filipinos who might opt to move back to the countryside.
Apart from decongesting Metro Manila, this will spread economic development nationwide.
“Dahil sa COVID-19, nakita po natin kung gaano ka-vulnerable ang Metro Manila sa mga sakit dahil sa congestion dito. Isa sa mga nakita nating solusyon dito ang BP2. Ngunit para mas mahikayat natin ang mga Pilipino na bumalik sa kanilang probinsya, dapat nating masigurado ang food security sa bansa, lalo na sa ating mga probinsya (Because of COVID-19, we saw how vulnerable Metro Manila is to diseases because of congestion. One solution is the BP2. To encourage more people to relocate to the provinces, we must ensure food security in the country, especially in the provinces),’’ Go said.
“More specifically, dapat mas pagtuunan ng pansin ng DA ang ‘household food security’ ng mga magbabalik-probinsya (the DA should focus on the ‘household food security’ of those who are relocating),” he added, noting that there is a significant number of families in Metro Manila who already expressed their intentions to avail of the BP2 benefits.
To finance DA’s various food security programs, Go said that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) could consider allowing DA to realign its funds, insofar as the law permits, to ensure ample funds to implement its existing programs supportive of BP2.
Some of these include the giving of seeds and support for backyard poultry raising; contribution of various inputs, such as machineries, tools and equipment to agricultural workers; and the provision of low- or zero-interest credit and establishment of credit facilities, such as ‘Sikat Saka Program’ for rice and corn farmers, Survival and Recovery Loan for victims of calamities, and Production Loan Easy Access for crops, livestock, fisheries projects.
The Agriculture department also provides free training on rice production, modern rice farming techniques, seed production, and farm mechanization for farmers. It also implements the “Kadiwa ni Ani at Kita Marketing Program,” which establishes a direct link between farmers/fisherfolk and the consuming public, ensuring that the former get the best prices for their goods, while providing affordable, safe, and nutritious produce to the latter.
Equally vital in ensuring household food security in the country, Go added, is the close coordination and partnership between local government units and the Agriculture department.
He, therefore, urged LGUs nationwide to implement programs applicable to their localities. These should be aligned with the DA’s food security plans and programs.
With the help of these programs, Go said that Filipinos would be able to plant or do backyard poultry farming, paving the way for agri-preneurs to start their own food enterprises.
“We have seen how the pandemic broke the global supply chain of the food sector. Now is the time to ensure that we are food self-reliant and to reduce our dependence on global trade when it comes to food. Now, more than ever, we need to promote and support food security and agriculture in the country,” he emphasized.
As the proponent of the BP2, Go said that ensuring food security would also be crucial in its success, reminding national agencies to implement the program immediately to benefit all affected Filipinos who wish to go back to their home provinces.
Go also said that he would also recommend to the Executive branch other necessary measures that could support the objectives of giving Filipinos a better future after the COVID-19 crisis.