LGUs key to agriculture transformation
For meaningful agriculture transformation, local government units (LGUs) must be assertive and play a key role in the development of the industry.
This was the main recommendation in a 69-page report submitted to the Office of the President and the Department of Agriculture (DA) last Aug. 15. “Towards an Effective AgriFisheries Multi-year Plan” was written by the heads of six agriculture-based coalitions. To accomplish this, consultations were made with agriculture stakeholders coming from different orientations as varied as the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and the Private Sector Advisory Council.
The conclusion was the same: LGU heads, from governors to mayors to barangay captains, must now lead in our needed agriculture transformation. In 1977, the Local Government Code devolved to the LGUs the responsibility over various development areas, including agriculture. Several LGUs argued that while they were given a bigger role, they did not have the resources.
Later, the Supreme Court ruled that effective 2022, LGUs would get a larger share in the Internal Revenue Allotment, for a 24-percent increase this year. Unfortunately, there has generally been no significant difference in the way LGUs are managing agriculture development in their respective areas.
In the development of the agrifisheries multiyear plan, five significant findings emerged in one of the in-depth interviews on fisheries and aquaculture:
The potential of fisheries has been severely damaged by illegal practices allowed by both national and local government agencies. These include dynamite fishing, cyanide poisoning, “hulbot” and “taksay.”
Coastal mayors know that a large part of their oceanic waters are not utilized for food production. Municipal fishers have exclusive access up to 15 kilometers from the shoreline, but municipal boats allowed by government can only go up to seven kilometers. Since commercial fishers can operate only beyond 15 kilometers, the area between 7 kms and 15 kms is left untouched.
The DA gives these small boats to municipal fishers without the mayor’s intervention. Funds for these boats are largely wasted. They should instead be channeled to innovative and multipurpose “bagsakans.”
Guided by the mayor and the private sector, these bagsakans should be located in strategic points. These are small agribusiness hubs that will provide cold storage, processing and marketing facilities. They should also be used for other products such as vegetables and meat. Wastage will be avoided. Fish volume and income increases will be attained, then exports will follow.
The LGUs should severely penalize use of illegal fishnets with small holes that catch small fishes. A 20-gram fish can still grow to 1,000 grams after seven to eight months. Only then can income increase five-fold.
Like other countries, LGUs should also strictly implement the Vehicle Monitoring System, with government people onboard to ensure legal compliance. Personnel should also be deployed in wet markets to gather data and to identify if dynamite fishing and cyanide poisoning were used in the products.If the LGUs take their agriculture role seriously, they should also monitor the funds directly coming from the DA. The latter’s 2023 budget is expected to increase by 40 percent to P164 billion. LGUs should ensure additional resources are not wasted. Last Aug. 29, the Alyansa Agrikultura wrote a letter to the Senate committee on agriculture calling for an investigation into the P22-billion unliquidated expenses of the DA. Up to now, these have not been adequately justified. Corruption is a likely cause. LGUs must now seriously carry out their agriculture governance role. It is the key to the agriculture transformation we so badly need today.
The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of presidential flagship programs and projects, and former undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry. Contact him at [email protected]
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