House of Representatives pushes farming bills

MANILA-- The House of Representatives' committee on food security has approved the creation of a technical working group (TWG) that will consolidate various bills seeking to institutionalize urban farming.

During the hearing, Rep. Leo Rafael Cueva (2nd District, Negros Occidental), committee chairman, commended Reps. Estrellita Suansing (1st District, Nueva Ecija), Michael Odylon Romero (Party-list, 1-PACMAN), and Harlin Neil Abayon III (Party-list, AANGAT TAYO), authors of House Bills 2818, 4354, and 4422, respectively, for filing the measures that aim "to achieve self-sufficiency in food production and ensure social and economic access of our people to available nutritious food in urban areas".

Cueva said the bills are relevant and necessary since urban agriculture is a priority legislative agenda of the Department of Agriculture (DA) under the Duterte administration.

The bills define urban farming as "any act of farming in a city using land or the space of a building, including the roof of a building that is partially or completely covered with vegetation through the use of any growing medium such as pots, plots, and membranes".

Rep. Jesulito Manalo (Party-list, ANGKLA) moved for the TWG creation after Suansing said the 16th Congress was unable to pass the proposal due to lack of material time.

He said the progress of the bill in the 16th Congress is already an indication that all resource persons who were invited before agreed to the policy being proposed. Urban farming will encourage employment and help address health concerns, according to Manalo.

"The greening of Manila is so important simply because we are polluted. We are inhaling polluted air. The medical board of the Department of Health said that 30 percent of our health problems are pulmonary. The greening will be a first step towards curing all these ills. For every day that we delay (action), we are causing health hazards for ourselves," he said.

Manalo, chairman of the committee on Globalization and World Trade Organization (WTO), further said the idle lands that will be designated to urban farming will be protected from informal dwellers and interlopers.

The bills will also promote key reforms for the development and promotion of modern, appropriate, cost-effective and environmentally safe agriculture technologies to address food security.

Manalo then moved, seconded by Rep. Christopher de Venecia (4th District, Pangasinan), for the creation of a TWG to consolidate the various urban farming bills.

A salient feature of the bills is a section providing for real property tax credit for every sq. meter allotted to and maintained urban farm.

Suansing said her HB 2818, titled "An Act Promoting Integrated Urban Agricultural Development in All Metropolitan Areas Nationwide to Address Food Security Concerns", aims to promote self-sufficiency in food production and build climate-resilient communities; institutionalize integrated farming in highly urbanized cities and municipalities nationwide; and lessen the incidence of poverty in highly urbanized areas and promote the importance of healthy nutrition among the people.

The country's population is continuously growing, hence ensuring food security is an urgent concern, according to Suansing, chairperson of the committee on ecology.

"This bill will remind you of the Green Revolution Program launched by former president Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Rep. Imelda Romualdez-Marcos, called, 'Masagana 99', which aimed to produce 99 sacks of rice per hectare. It was necessary to make the country self-sufficient in terms of rice supply. The bill is also a reminder of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's Executive Order No. 776, which aimed to boost backyard food production as part of her administration's comprehensive livelihood and emergency employment program that includes the Gulayan ng Masa and the Integrated Services for Livelihood Advancement for Subsistent Fisherfolk," said Suansing.

Rep. Orestes Salon (Party-list, AGRI) said another dimension of urban farming is social in nature, which is community organizing. "This is another aspect of the bill aside from promoting food security, nutrition, environmentally sound culture and technology, and benchmarking the hectarage to determine how much or how many will be produced in an urban area needed for communities, especially the depressed areas," said Salon.

He said once the communities have been organized for urban agriculture, they can also be mobilized for disaster preparedness.

Salon said still another dimension of urban farming is the interaction between the government, business, and the community.

"It's going to be a triadic model of the government, non-government and the business sector. I think this is one formula for success in any activity," he said.

Rep. Emmi de Jesus (Party-list, GABRIELA) raised the issue of shelter, which, she stressed, is a big problem among informal settlers. She said this must be considered during the TWG discussions.

Romero said urban farming will help the urban poor, who are mostly restricted in education and job opportunities, gain the benefits as it will help promote better livelihood by providing non-market access to food.

Romero said his bill aims to address the problem of overpopulation and climate change.

Abayon cited studies showing that urban farming "is beneficial to the urban community as the vegetation absorbs water runoff by storing water from rain, improves air quality, reduces noise pollution, and mitigates urban heat".

Abayon said urban farms "can also serve as a natural habitat and wildlife corridor for migrating species and act as a carbon sink". (PNA)

Source: Philippines News Agency