Mayors, villages and farmersBy Ernesto M. Ordoñez
Philippine Daily Inquirer
If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to uplift the farmer. The main force that can make this happen is the mayor. This is what I learned last September 18 when I attended the 10th anniversary of Synergia, an education-oriented multi-awarded NGO led by former Finance Undersecretary Milwida Guevarra.
During this event, a tribute was made to the late Secretary and Mayor Jesse Robredo, a Ramon Magsaysay awardee. He mobilized different community sectors to make significant changes for the effective education of the child. Municipalities with outstanding education achievements were featured, highlighting the mayor’s critical role in mobilizing the community.
Two days ago, at the weekly meeting of the Management Association of the Philippines-Agribusiness and Countryside Development Foundation (MAP-ABCD) meeting, I heard the same message from another Ramon Magsaysay awardee, Romulo Davide.
Knowing the mayor’s importance in achieving agricultural development success in the 20 provinces where his program is implemented, Davide makes it a necessity to ask for the mayor’s involvement and support.
“It takes a village to raise a child.”
Rev. Joseph Heley identified the proverb’s key insight: the child’s upbringing is a communal effort. He wrote: “Children are considered a blessing from God for the whole community. Communal responsibility in raising children is also seen in the Sukuma (Tanzania) proverb: ‘One knee does not bring up a child’ and the Swahili (East and Central Africa) proverb: ‘One hand does not nurse a child.’”
Similarly, farmers are a blessing from God for the whole nation. They constitute 40 percent of our labor force, but are among the country’s poorest and most invisible. However, many people believe that it is the responsibility only of DA to uplift the farmers.
When this happens, failure occurs. It takes different sectors of the community such as academicians, technology experts, extension workers, lending institutions and NGOs to uplift the farmer. Though different people can catalyze these different sectors into an effective synergistic whole, Davide believes it is the mayor who is the most effective change agent.
The mayor is not only the community’s elected leader. Under the Local Government Code, the mayor, not the DA, has the primary responsibility for agricultural development. Furthermore, the 17,000 agriculture extension workers in the country now no longer report to the DA, but to the mayor.
Of course, a mayor can start from Ground Zero and start creating a new structure for the different community participants to promote agricultural development and uplift the farmer.
But he or she does not have to reinvent the wheel. There is an existing severely underutilized structure mandated by law: the Municipal Agriculture Fishery Council (MAFC). This is the community force that the mayors can vitalize to provide the mechanism to achieve this objective.
Our government today is taking unprecedented moves to support agriculture. The P38.5-billion DA budget in 2011 is more than double its budget a few years earlier. This was further increased by 53 percent in 2012 to P52.9 billion. The plan next year is for P63.1 billion considering the DA budget alone, and P72.9 billion if we include DA-attached agencies. We must take full advantage of this tremendous support.
Last year, we only used 69 percent of the DA budget, leaving P12.2 billion unutilized. Our agricultural growth rates were 1 percent and 0.7 percent in the first and second quarters this year. This is probably because we have put the entire responsibility for this on the DA.
Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala has not only done an excellent job in minimizing corruption. He has also been a champion of small farmers.
But we must now realize that it takes a community to uplift the farmers, and the mayor to catalyze this community.
We recommend that a significant part of the DA budget be spent on strengthening the capacity of the mayors to mobilize the community to promote agricultural development and uplift the farmers.
At the same time, DA should take immediate steps to strengthen the MAFCs.
After these two critical actions are done, we will then see the community uplifting the farmers, and the mayor being the main force in making this happen.
(The author is chairman of Agriwatch, former secretary for presidential flagship programs and projects, and former undersecretary for agriculture, and trade and industry. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail email@example.com or telefax (02) 85221.)
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