Legarda: Support agriculture, community vegetable gardens to achieve food security
On World Food Day (October 16), Senator Loren Legarda stressed on the importance of providing the necessary support for agriculture, especially for small farmers, and the establishment of community vegetable gardens around the country to address hunger and malnutrition and achieve food security. Legarda said that the Second Quarter 2017 Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed that 9.5% or an estimated 2.2 million families experienced involuntary hunger. While this is significantly lower than the Second Quarter 2016 SWS statistics, it still shows that many Filipinos experience hunger. “It is ironic that millions of Filipino go hungry even if our country is so rich in natural resources. To effectively reduce, and hopefully eliminate, hunger, as well as malnutrition and poverty, we have to provide our people the kind of support that will have long-term effects. We need to boost food self-sufficiency through stronger support for agriculture and to establish community gardens,” she explained. Legarda, Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, said that under the proposed 2018 national budget, P2-billion is allocated to subsidize irrigation service fees (ISF) being paid by farmers to the National Irrigation Administration (NIA). “Our farmers, who feed the nation, are among the poorest of the poor who need government support and intervention. The free irrigation for farmers, which we first introduced in the 2017 national budget and will sustain in the 2018 national budget, is a big boost for the agriculture sector. Lowering of production costs of small farmers will help achieve food security, encourage more citizens to engage in or go back to farming, and improve the income of our small farmers,” said Legarda, who is also co-author of the proposed Free Irrigation Reform and Restructuring Act. Under the said measure, fees being collected by NIA from its irrigation beneficiaries will be discontinued and the management and maintenance of irrigation facilities will be turned over to the beneficiaries and will be provided with professional management support. Meanwhile, the Senator also encouraged the establishment of vegetable gardens in backyards, schools and communities, stressing that it addresses both hunger and malnutrition. “The government has current programs that already promote community gardening. The Department of Education (DepEd) has Gulayan sa Paaralan program, while the household beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) are encouraged to engage in organic backyard and communal farming. But we want all Filipinos to be involved because this is not only for food production, it also helps create and preserve healthy ecosystems, conserve the country’s crop genetic diversity and heirloom plants as a strategy for climate change adaptation, mitigation and resiliency, and promote public awareness on ecological and sustainable use of land resources for food production and other products,” she explained. In line with this, the Senator has proposed the Food Forest Gardening Act under Senate Bill No. 1186. This bill seeks to promote and institutionalize food forest gardening in the country as a sustainable land use system to address the limited resources for sustainable food production with minimal farming costs but increased harvests even in small plots of land. A food forest is a system of gardening using perennial vegetables chosen to complement and support each other, minimizing weeds, pests and maintenance while providing a rich variety of harvest. These food forest gardens may be established in any parcel or portion of land, public spaces such as urban yards or city and municipal parks, unutilized and idle public land, community or common spaces of land developments, portions of rural farms, urban housing projects, and residential homes. Legarda said that all local government units (LGUs) will be mandated to conduct a comprehensive food forest gardening in their areas. The concerned LGUs will encourage all home developers, homeowners, neighborhood, community and/or People’s Organizations to participate in the program. Likewise, the program will be integrated in the academic curriculum for senior high school and college students taking up Agriculture, Practical Arts, Home Economics and/or other subjects related to agriculture.