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Ambitious commitments (part 2)

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“Agriculture is the most healthful, the most useful, and, most noble employment of man” – George Washington

My inaugural column largely discussed climate change and, how agriculture, organic agriculture, in particular can contribute in addressing hunger as the top millennium develop goal of the United Nations on a global scale.

This second of a series tries to present the Philippines commitments in mitigating climate change and, at the same time, in the UN-MDG as a signatory to both agreements.

For the MDG, the Philippines signed in 2003 and 2005 respectively and, in 2015 we committed to help in the mitigation of the increasing ill-effects of climate change.

Exactly twenty years have passed, the present dispensed power in Malacañang is the fourth one after the country inked its commitment to the UN-MDG. Thus, it is with curiosity that we need to know how Philippine agriculture is faring in relation to our commitment.

In this light, let us, at least, try to enumerate our commitment in addressing hunger and poverty and the rest of the UN goals in the midst of the rapid and worsening climate change.

A quick glance at hunger and poverty goal the Philippines has fared better according to the Philippine Statistics Authority with 1991 as the base year as far as the proportion of population below national threshold from 34.4 to 21.6, respectively. That is a 24-year period which mathematically be computed at .53 percent annual reduction. In his discussion paper, Mr. Roehlano Briones of the Philippine Institute of the Development Studies, says, “The Philippines has made considerable progress in attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However achieving all the targets remains a daunting challenge, with goals for poverty, education and maternal mortality unlikely to be attained. The goal for poverty will not be achieved even by 2025”. 

THE PHILIPPINE DEVELOPMENT PLAN

The Philippine Development Plan covers the period of 2023-2028 under the Ferdinand Marcos Jr. leadership. In gist, it is overall blueprint in development planning for the next six years. It reflects the government’s policies, strategies, programs, and legislative priorities in support of and consistent to his socioeconomic agenda.

This was formulated in collaboration with government agencies, local government units, the private sector, stakeholders groups, civil society, and development partners. However, others argue that the PDP is merely a “rehash” or a “thickly-produced old plan reworded”. But, be that as it may, it is imperative that plans are based on clear data guide decision making and whether these plans are realistic or not.

As opposed, what is clear and consistent according to various credible institutions and agencies national and international is that the MDG will not be achieved as far as timeline is concerned for both the UN and the Philippines.

Chapter 5 of Part III of the PDP is the modernization of agriculture and agri-business. This seems to be a solid plan but is it really data-based and realistic?

I have no doubt the government is well aware of its commitment to the UN-MDG when no other than the President while sitting as Senator in 2013 filed Senate Bill 420 for the enactment of the “Philippine Millennium Development Fund Law of 2013” which simply means setting aside adequate funds for the sole purpose of “mitigating if not eradicating the MDG topped by hunger and poverty.

AGRICULTURAL LANDS

The Philippine agricultural land was reported at 42.51  percent in 2020, according to the World Bank collection of development indicators, compiled from officially recognized sources out of the total 300,000 square kilometers. A co-incidence that the largest area among the provinces in Ilocos Region, Pangasinan shared the highest number of farms with 137.6 thousand, covering 160.7 thousand hectares of agricultural land. This is the hoe region of the President.

There about 5 million farmers that till and produce in the entire 126,000 square kilometers of agricultural land. About 2.9 million small farmers have an average farm size of 2 hectares, while 13, 681 landholders own up to 20,000 ha. Moreover, 70 percent of farmers in the Philippines are landless. The preceding line speaks of the risk and danger of food security and the eventual mitigation or eradication of hunger largely by way of agriculture.

Presuming we have the government has the strategy in its PDP to ensure food security, we need to come up with a clear formula or ratio on how to feed 120 million or, so Filipinos or at least ensure caretaker-ship if not ownership for the 70 percent landless farmers. There is a glaring disparity of ownership of the land. This might connote that agrarian reform as a “failure” after thirty five years and two extensions. Prior to land reform in 1989 there have been agrarian reforms since the Magsaysay regime.

In October last year, the Philippines recorded three (3) million hungry Filipinos according to SWS survey. Whether this low or way too high, three million is three million. Sans, the demographics of this figure an urgent action is needed.

CLIMATE CHANGE AND FOOD SECURITY COMMITMENT

Mirrored to our UN-MDG commitment is the government’s ambitious commitment to climate change. Though a minor contributor to this menace globally, our greenhouse gas emissions rank in the top 25 percent among low- and middle-income countries, with significant increases projected in the coming decades.

It is common knowledge that Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change being exposed to natural hazards, dependence on climate-sensitive natural resources, and vast coastlines where all of its major cities and the majority of the population reside.

We sit along the typhoon belt in the Pacific and an accommodating host to at least twenty typhoons every year and at least five of which are destructive. Worse, being situated in the “Pacific Ring of Fire” makes it vulnerable to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

As a signatory to climate change reduction, in 2009 the Philippine congress passed the Republic Act 9729 or the Climate Change Act of 2009. The law spelled the creation of the Commission on Climate Change that crafted the National Climate Change Action Plan or NCCAP and developed a Climate Change Framework with 14 major core points that aims to achieve 7 major priorities. Major focus of the NCCAP is the adaptation, mitigation and resiliency of local communities with the crucial role of the LGUs.

These are: Food security – availability and accessibility of food supply; Water sufficiency – resilience and sustainability of major water resources and infrastructure; Ecological and Environmental stability – protection and rehabilitation of critical ecosystems; Human security – reduction of risks from climate change and disasters especially women; Climate-friendly industries and services that prioritizes the creation of green and eco-jobs and   sustainable consumption and production; Sustainable energy – development of sustainable and renewable energy including transport; Knowledge and capacity development – scientific knowledge on the resilience, mitigation and adaptation to climate change with focus on gender.

There have been many if not, numerous laws the Philippines congress has passed pertinent to these commitments but there are very important questions that arguably remain unanswered. Granting the government has enough resources, manpower and technology, the most important question that always come to mind is – does the Philippines especially its leaders muster the genuine political will to undertake these challenges not simply to comply and achieve its commitments but to ensure food security to feed the hungry?

In the following articles I will try to discuss the Negros context and how agriculture – particularly organic agriculture is taking place and shape amidst the social and political landscape in relation land ownership and how does land reform as social justice law contribute to eradicate hunger and poverty decades after the sugar crisis.*

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