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Three low-hanging fruits for 2019

Urban dictionary defines low-hanging fruits as targets or goals which are easily achievable. If they also result in great gains, this would be doubly desirable.

Three low-hanging fruits for 2019 that have both these features are: (1) increasing the coconut methyl ester (CME) component from 2 percent to 5 percent in biodiesel; (2) supplementing the meagre budget of P1 million for each of the 18 major river basins to P8 million, and holding the long delayed national water summit with the necessary presidential directives.

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Increasing the CME component to 5 percent in biodiesel is already in the Biodiesel Act of 2006. This level is lower than Malaysia’s 7 percent and Thailand’s 20 percent vegetable oil requirement for their own biodiesel. What has stopped the increase was the misguided notion that this would increase inflation. There will in fact be a P1 increase in the current P35 diesel price per liter (though this was P42 a few weeks ago).

But scientific studies from the Asean Institute of Petroleum Studies show that the P1 price increase will result in a P5 benefit from the improved mileage that will arise from the more efficient biodiesel mix. The overall impact on the economy is therefore a decrease, rather than an increase, in inflation.

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Aside from a 500-percent return on this CME investment, 3.4 million coconut farmers will benefit. Over the past year, the farm gate price of a coconut has plummeted from P12 to only P3. Because their annual income has similarly dropped from their already meagre P20,000 per hectare earnings last year, these farmers have started cutting and selling their coconut trees to survive. This endangers their source of livelihood. With the CME inclusion, demand will increase from 144 million to 360 million tons, resulting in increased farmer incomes. In addition, the CME replacement of imported fossil fuels will benefit our environment and save precious foreign exchange.

The recently concluded global climate change talks showed water as the central issue. In the Philippines, where 73 die daily from water-related causes, our situation is bound to worsen unless swift action is taken. Most countries today use the effective water basin approach with integrated water resource management (IWRM) and a critical watershed focus.

We are not doing this properly, despite each of our 18 major river basins having a comprehensive road map and a multisectoral council with representatives from LGUs, government agencies, private business sector and civil society. This is because, with less than a P1 million annual budget per basin, there are no full time personnel, no dedicated equipment and operational expenses are inadequate.

Increasing this by P7 million per river basis will at least provide five full-time personnel and the necessary equipment and operational expenses. The additional budget for the 18 basins is only P156 million, or 0.6 percent of the recently exposed P75 billion budget infrastructure insertion. The appropriate river basin budget support must now be given to significantly improve the lacking water governance being done on a regional basis.

Finally, the long delayed national water summit must be held in March, the World Water month. At 4 a.m. on April 16, 2016, then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte committed to the heads of the five-coalition Agri Fisheries Alliance that he would address the water crisis. Seven water presummits covering seven water subsectors were then held in Mindanao, the Visayas, and Luzon. This resulted in one volume per sector authored by a UPLB dean. Each identified short- and long-term priority actions toward a national water summit and road map.

Though there were several accomplishments that resulted from this work, the critical national water summit with major presidential directives was twice postponed. With climate change upon us and another El Niño around the corner, this summit must now be conducted. It assumes more significance because of the private sector’s Movement for Water Security (MWS) that must synergize with the 34 government water-related agencies that are still largely uncoordinated today.

With these three low hanging fruits addressed, we may then have a happier new year.

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