Legarda: Recognize that our farmers and fisherfolk are our saviors, provide them with support for climate-resilient agriculture

January 12, 2022

Deputy Speaker and Antique Congresswoman Loren Legarda expressed her strong commitment to champion the farmers and fishers, as the country moves towards becoming self-sufficient and food secure, during the AGRI2022 Online Forum.

Highlighting the successes in the province of Antique, which saw significant increases in palay production (27.4%) and yield (3.8%) in 2021, Legarda emphasized, “With the exceptional support of the government: from providing seeds, tools, equipment and market access, self-sufficiency in agriculture can be achieved.” The province of Antique boasts as one of the very few provinces to achieve a “rice self-sufficient” status.

“I note that we are the only country in the ASEAN region that is a net importer of food. This is unacceptable, as our country is rich in resources and we have more than 10 million hardworking small farmers, forest settlers, and fisherfolk.” Legarda added.

Legarda stressed the need for the sector to benefit from scientific research and innovation, especially for climate-resilient technologies. “During Typhoon Odette, Del Carmen in Siargao was miraculously spared from storm surges because it is home to 4,871 hectares of mangroves.” Legarda added: “We need to work with and alongside natural processes. Nature-based solutions, such as planting mangrove greenbelts, have been very effective in preventing further loss and damage. Our farming and fishing communities could benefit from policies and plans that build with nature.”

Aside from coastal greenbelts, Legarda drew attention to the community production of seeds, which are locally adapted to the soil and climate, or the use of integrated solutions such as integrated duck-rice farming. When asked about water scarcity, Legarda noted that: “if we had healthier soils, we can prevent erosion or run-off. For example, if our farmers used the straw from their palay and applied it to their rice fields, the straw is converted to organic matter. They would be close to achieving one (1%) percent organic matter, which translates to about 50,000 gallons of water retained.” The Deputy Speaker is a proud backyard farmer. She saves and starts her own seeds, utilizes mulching and a rainwater catchment for irrigation, and grows her own food.

She added: “We need to rethink our food system. We urgently need to move from environmentally exploitative farming to regenerative practices. Presently, our policies are focused on large scale farming and production for export. Considering that we have about 10 million small farmers, forest settlers, or fisherfolk, it is in small holder agriculture where change is needed to increase the food supply. If the government provides adequate support and intervention, small producers will have additional income generating opportunities while encouraging local food supply.”

The three-term Senator, now Deputy Speaker, has co-authored House Bill 8385 or the Integrated Urban Agriculture Act, which seeks to promote and institutionalize urban agriculture as a sustainable land use system. She is also the co-author of the Rural Farm Schools Act under Republic Act 10618.

Additionally, Legarda called attention to the plight of women farmers, who comprise 27.3 percent of workers employed in the agricultural sector but who remain undervalued if not invisible. “Support to the sector should also include support to our women farmers, who have less access to productive resources than men do.”

Today is a unique opportunity to undertake a new course in food production, processing, distribution, and consumption. The COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the role of agriculture in our country. When import and export grounded to a halt, it showed the need for the country to be self-sustainable. Shorter supply chains, local sourcing, and stronger urban–rural relationships would provide more resilience in times of crisis rather than relying only on international trade. For me, the way forward is: small-holder agriculture, family farming or backyard gardening.”

The AGRI2022 Online Forum was organized last Monday, January 10, by the Aksyon Alyansa. The organization presented a Concept Note and document: “Transform Agriculture for Food Security, Job Creation, and Balanced Growth” citing twelve recommendations by three critical agriculture-related sectors: farmers and fisherfolk; agribusiness; and science and academe.