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A possible blessing for agriculture

The devolution of the agriculture budget as a result of the Mandanas-Garcia ruling will be a blessing for agriculture, but only if implemented properly. Unfortunately, in the case of the agriculture extension that was devolved to local government units (LGUs) in 1991, the results over the last 30 years of that devolution have been very disappointing. It can happen again.

Because of inadequate preparation and guidance, our agriculture extension has been cited as one of the least productive in Southeast Asia, and a major cause for our being an agriculture laggard.

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Coalition for Agriculture Modernization Philippines (CAMP) stalwart Rex Navarro wrote: “Over the years, the devolution of agriculture extension did not yield the desired result, particularly in helping significantly improve the livelihood of small holders. Many municipal LGUs did not appoint qualified extension workers, and assigned tasks unrelated to agriculture and fisheries.”

World Bank economist Kevin Cruz added: “If implementation is not rolled out effectively, it could result in worsening the gap in service delivery. This is especially costly in the midst of a historic recession and a health crisis.”

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The devolution of funds from the Mandanas-Garcia ruling results in a 55-percent increase or P234.6 billion in the LGU’s Internal Revenue Allotment. Whether this will be a blessing or curse depends on the preparation of the LGUs in using these funds productively. The previous faulty agriculture extension devolution case should not be repeated.

Current situation

Today, the majority of LGUs have not received the guidance to do effective provincial agriculture and fisheries planning. This hinders the proper use of the devolved funds.

Each LGU is required to have a comprehensive development plan, that should include subsidiary plans like a Local Climate Change Action Plan (LCCAP). But tragically. there is no requirement for an agriculture and fisheries plan. But as United Nations consultant Tito Contado said during the June 19 CAMP meeting: “It is good that the DA (Department of Agriculture) has instituted the needed province-led Agriculture and Fisheries Extension Systems. But other LGU agriculture aspects should also immediately be addressed in a holistic way.”

An effective LGU agriculture and fisheries plan that includes these aspects is still missing.

Fortunately, there are existing good but not well-known planning models that can be modified for each LGU. For example, the Climate Resiliency in Agriculture and Fisheries Action Planning, started in 2009, builds on the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government)-required LCCAP. It adds a climate lens to whatever plan that exists. In so doing, it improves the plan with a systematic approach.

Proven success

Working closely with the DA and the LGU, it has produced impressive results. It has been partially funded by Oxfam of United Kingdom and GIZ of Germany. Given the strict monitoring and evaluation of international funding agencies, this initiative continues to get international support because of its 11-year track record. The template targets every barangay. It includes tools for critical activities such as data gathering and focused group discussions, capacity assessment, sectoral workshops and a strategic summary presentation for municipal validation, approval and commitment.

Municipal Planning Development Officer Gerald Castañeda of Gerona, Tarlac, said: “It added to the LCCAP the farmers’ active and deep participation in giving valuable input, accessed experts who guided and trained us, and connected us to helpful public and private entities we had no previous contact with.”

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Municipal Agriculture Officer Nimfa Ferolino of Irosin, Sorsogon, said: “I especially liked the focus on every barangay, the identification of important sectors’ problems and recommendations, and a concluding presentation outline with key recommendations that won LGU approval.”

This tried and tested six-step template done for 26 LGUs has been coordinated for the last 11 years by the Rice Watch Action Network. Executive director Hazel Tanchuling (0928-5211908) added: “By having this plan at the municipal level, DA regional officers can also use the output to program support for municipal agriculture.” The estimated cost to cover all the municipal LGUs is P232 million. This is only 3 percent of the proposed P7-billion swine repopulation budget. Its cost-benefit analysis reveals that the benefit of using the potential P23.04 billion in devolved agriculture funds is 100 times the P233 million cost. This cost estimate follows the recommendation from the Food Security Summit called by President Duterte that at least 10 percent of the devolved funds should be used for agriculture and fisheries.

Other successful and tested LGU agriculture and fisheries planning initiatives should immediately be funded and implemented. This way, the devolution of funds from the Mandanas-Garcia ruling will become a blessing, rather than a tragedy for agriculture. INQ

The author is Agriwatch chair, former Secretary of Presidential programs and projects and former undersecretary of DA and DTI. Contact is [email protected]

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