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People empowerment in agriculture

March 15, 2010

By Ernesto Ordoñez
Inquirer
First Posted 00:01:00 08/03/2007

TWO DAYS ago, two items that came out in the Philippine Daily Inquirer made us wonder if our farmers were sufficiently empowered.

The farmers’ condition may be significantly improved by merely implementing what is officially stated in rhetoric, but not reflected in reality.

Water crisis
According to the July 31 article, “Cutback harder on small farmers,” which appeared on the front page, it was reported that “Central Luzon farmers stand to suffer more than Metro Manila residents from the cutback in water supply from Angat Dam.”

Further analysis reveals the bias in favor of urban consumers at the expense of rural farmers.

The National Water Resource Board reduced the supply for farmers–through the National Irrigation System–from 32 cubic meters per second to 25 cu m/sec. It also decreased the supply of Metro Manila residents–through the Metropolitan Water and Sewerage System–from 43 cu m/sec to 41 cu m/sec.

What was the basis for cutting farmers’ water supply by 22 percent, while urban dwellers’ supply are reduced by only 5 percent?

Farmers have a right to know. They should be consulted on both the formulation and implementation of water policy, such as water location decisions during a crisis.

In the last National Water Summit held two years ago, most of the sectors had positions, while agriculture, which is the biggest player in water, had no position. Outgoing DENR Secretary Angelo Reyes told Alyansa Agrikultura leaders he would call such a summit later this year, ensuring that the agriculture sector would have a key role in the summit. It is hoped that incoming DENR Secretary Lito Atienza follows through on this commitment.

Coco levy
Also last July 31, in the Inquirer’s Opinion Section, Centro Saka executive director Omy Royandoyan cited a ranking official who said that proceeds from the sale of government shares in San Miguel Corp. could be used to fund vital government programs outlined in the last State of the Nation Address.

But the SMC shares were bought using the coconut levy fund. The Supreme Court has already declared it to be a special fund to be used solely for the benefit of coconut farmers.

Royandoyan writes: “The government’s insistence on allocating the SMC shares for purposes other than what they are meant … goes against the interest of small and impoverished coconut farmers and farm workers. Using these special funds to bridge the budget deficit and finance the projects identified by the President in her Sona will deprive the coconut farmers of much needed financial aid.”

In his well-researched book, “Long and Tortuous Road to Coconut Levy,” Royandoyan warned of such a diversion: “We just hope that the disposition of the levy fund will not suffer the same fate of the human rights money that went to finance the fertilizer program … Since the coconut levy fund belongs to the coconut farmers and farm workers, any fund to be utilized should always serve their utmost interest.”

Empowerment solution
While books, articles, letters to the editor and even street protests may help farmers achieve empowerment, there is also a very effective but underutilized mechanism that uses cooperation, rather than confrontation to achieve this.

If implemented properly, the Agriculture and Fishery Council (AFC) may be the solution to true farmer empowerment. Created through Executive Order 116 on Jan. 30, 1987, the AFC is an advisory body at the national, regional, provincial and municipal level that promotes “private sector participation in agricultural and fisheries development.”

In its website, http://nafc.da.gov.ph, the council states: “We envision the National Agriculture and Fishery Council (NAFC) as an effective and efficient catalyst and generator of private sector commitment and participation in developing the agriculture and fisheries section as the basis of a vibrant national economy. We value empowerment and good governance.”

However, only yesterday, a fisherfolk leader who has attended the NAFC fishery committee for the last six years said that, unlike before, the undersecretary for fisheries rarely attend the meetings. The same goes for the fisheries bureau director. Consequently, many leaders have stopped going to the meetings because they feel they are not getting the appropriate attention.

DA Secretary Arthur Yap and the senior management of the department must reinvigorate NAFC and empower the farmer and fisherfolk leaders through this mechanism. And when the government officials tackle such issues as the farmers’ share during the water crisis and their rights to the coco levy fund, they will not be taking on the fight alone. They will now have the NAFC and other local active AFCs behind them with the full support of farmers and fisherfolk. This may well be the best vehicle for empowerment in agriculture.

(The author is the chair of Agriwatch, former Cabinet secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former undersecretary for Agriculture, and Trade and Industry. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail agriwatchphil@yahoo.com or telefax (02) 8522112.)

http://business.inquirer.net/money/topstories/view/20070803-80271/People_empowerment_in_agriculture

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