Marshall Plan for Leyte and Samar agriculture
It is said that every year, typhoons are obliged to pay a courtesy call to Leyte and Samar. Supertyphoon “Yolanda” did more than that. It destroyed their agriculture.
The devastation is so great that, now, there is a need for a Marshall Plan for agriculture. Historically, the original Marshall Plan was a comprehensive program of US economic aid for the reconstruction of post-World War II Europe (1940-1952). Similarly, we now need something like a Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of post-Yolanda Leyte and Samar.
This idea was brought up by National Scientist Ricardo Lantican at the first meeting of the Coconut Farmers and Industry Advocates (CoFIA). This was held in Los Baños last Saturday, Nov. 16. CoFIA is primarily composed of UPLB-based scientists and development experts. Catalyzed by Balik Scientist Ben Pecson (0927-2120351), the group includes former ministers and UP Chancellors. Among them are Emil Javier, Fernando Bernardo, Roger Cuyno, Ruben Villareal, and Livvy Castillo.
At CoFIA’s inaugural meeting, the Alyansa Agrikultura (AA) and the Coconut Industry Reform Movement (COIR), led by Joey Faustino and Oca Santos, gave a background of the impoverished coconut industry and levy, as well as ongoing initiatives and recommendations to improve the plight of the three million coconut farmers and farm workers. Because of Yolanda, the Leyte and Samar coconut farmers are now the poorest in the nation today. But as the wise Chinese say: “Look for the opportunity in the disaster.”
The advantage of the proposed Marshall Plan for Leyte and Samar agriculture is that we can build things from Ground Zero. After certain Japan cities were bombed, these same places built from the ruins some the best infrastructure networks in the world. In the same way, the ravaged parts of Leyte and Samar can now be replaced with the optimal set of crops and technologies to make them among the best agricultural areas in the country.
Last Nov. 19, during the DZRB Maunlad na Agrikultura Program hosted by Francis Cancino, Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) administrator Euclides Forbes talked about how a triangular pattern of coconut planting would protect coconut trees from typhoons. PCA’s John Domogtoy suggested that only the correct varieties of coconut should be planted in Leyte and Samar, indicating that traditional native varieties may be best suited to withstand the onslaught of typhoons.
This is where science and development groups like CoFIA should come in. Since Lantican proposed a Marshall Plan, CoFIA convinced him to spearhead it.
It is time that UPLB expertise is used to benefit our nation, instead of other countries like Taiwan and Thailand. The misfortune that has beset our country is that we excel in producing the best agricultural technologies, but we are sorely lacking in transferring these technologies to our own people.
We need a paradigm shift in agriculture. Instead of just being commodity-oriented, agriculture should also be farmer income-oriented. In the destroyed Leyte and Samar coconut areas, the first issue is whether coconut tree growing is the best use of this land.
If it is, then the coconut varieties resilient to typhoons should be planted. Since there is so much space between the trees, intercropping is a must. Rolando Dy has documented that the average annual P15,000 net income per hectare for solely coconut trees can be increased eight times to P120,000 with cacao and banana intercropping.
However, the need is immediate. While the coconut trees are growing, income should be generated for vegetables, root crops, livestock, honey bee cultivation, and other income-generating livelihood activities. Programs such as Pay for Work and innovative financing schemes should be implemented as soon as possible to address the survival needs of the coconut farmers.
An expert from the CoFIA group that can contribute to this paradigm shift is Pons Batugal. He is an expert on the coconut industry sought by six countries today. He knows all about coconut varieties, processing into high value products, intercropping, cash crops, and livelihood activities needed in the short term. And yet, his expertise is used by other countries rather than our own. Sadly, this gives substance to the saying that “a prophet is not heard in his own country.”
Batugal’s expertise and groups like CoFIA should be harnessed immediately for the formulation and implementation of a Marshall Plan for Leyte and Samar agriculture. This plan will not only identify the optimal products, technologies and value chain systems. It will also recommend the most effective technology transfer methods using the LGU extension workers. This will depart from the largely ineffective technology transfer systems we have today. This Marshall Plan can then transform a disaster into a golden opportunity for our unfortunate and impoverished Leyte and Samar farmers.
(The author is chair of Agri-watch, former secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former undersecretary for agriculture, and trade and industry. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or telefax 8522112.)