By Fernan Angeles
AMID an impending food crisis caused by the economic standstill in view of the national health emergency, members of the House Committee on Agriculture has finally approved House Bill 3412, otherwise known as the Integrated Urban Agriculture Act. HB 3412 authored by Negros Occidental Rep. Jose Francisco Benitez, seeks to promote an integrated urban agriculture to address food security problems affecting the country, which were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Benitez said HB 3412 intends to address the serious food security problem by introducing “game-changing solutions” that include “maximizing available spaces and utilizing emerging agricultural technologies and methods.”
“Local government units (LGUs) are in a strategic position to perform a catalytic role in promoting urban agriculture,” the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) asserts in its policy paper on policy imperatives to promote urban agriculture among local government units in the Philippines.
The policy paper is jointly authored by Dr. Rico C. Ancog and Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio of SEARCA and the University of the Philippines Los Baños, House Representative Arlene Arcillas, Erlinda C. Creencia of the Santa Rosa city government, Victorino Aquitania of CLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability–Southeast Asia, Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI) Assistant Director Gerald Glenn Panganiban, and Garry Hidalgo of Farm Factory and Rotary Club of Bay.
They brought to the policy paper their collective experience in a diverse mix of sectors that include the academe, science and technology, environment, agriculture, private industry, civil society, legislature, and local government.
“It will be strategic for local government units to implement an Urban Agriculture Strategy to sustainably mainstream it in local governance,” the SEARCA policy paper authors stress. Studies show, planning for urban agriculture tackles a combination of already existing urban issues in livelihood and income opportunities, food availability and accessibility, and, in many cases, conflicting land uses.
SEARCA Director Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio said “the challenge of optimizing limited space, including high-risk areas, is addressed by the Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP) of LGUs and, as such, it provides the most appropriate and likely the most effective platform to mainstream urban agriculture.”
The SEARCA paper points out the need for LGUs to pass an ordinance institutionalizing, developing, and promoting urban agriculture, including mainstreaming it in the CLUP and Local Climate Change Action Plan to ensure funding and support by the city or municipal council. Under HB 3412, in coordination with DA and Cooperative Development Authority (CDA), LGUs will tap neighborhood associations and people’s organizations to undertake community gardening.
The SEARCA paper highlights that the capacity of the barangay officials on urban agriculture would be very critical to operationalize the plans and projects. As they formulate their own development plan, the barangays are in the best position to identify or vet in identifying appropriate open spaces for urban gardening and in exploring potential funding sources to support urban agriculture.
Dr. Ancog and his co-authors also emphasize that “the role of the city or municipal agriculture officers is crucial to sustain urban agriculture initiatives with strong partnerships and collaboration with government line agencies such as DA-BPI and local state universities and colleges.” HB 3412 provides granting of incentives to participants in urban agriculture as well as for granting of loans extended by government and private banks to participating individuals, corporations and partnerships.
The SEARCA paper pushes for the passing of ordinances for tax reduction schemes, lease agreements, and zoning mixed-land use areas that would afford an enabling environment to encourage LGU constituents to engage in urban agriculture.
Since exploration of financing schemes would be essential to sustain efforts on urban agriculture by LGUs and its partners, the SEARCA chief said his team indicates that “the Agriculture Office of every LGU can allocate budget for urban agriculture in the Annual Investment Plan, organize farmers’ associations and cooperatives, and through private and industry partners, among others.”
In addition to the proposed urban gardening sites under HB 3412, the SEARCA paper advocates for open space and parks managed by LGUs to be planted with both agricultural crops and ornamental plants, which can also boost tourism and be a learning place for schoolchildren. “With the ongoing food security challenge brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, implementing urban agriculture projects has never been more urgent” said Dr. Gregorio.