MANILA, APRIL 23, 2009 (STAR) By Secretary Arthur C. Yap - The Philippines is many things to many people. It is the pearl of the orient, a tourism paradise of pristine beaches, lush forests and teeming rivers, an outsourcing haven ascendant, a global supplier of services, the home of a reigning boxing legend, a nation of God-fearing people possessing gifts of music and humor, a symbol of a nation breaking free from the bondage of poverty...the Philippines is my home.

Beyond warmth and congeniality, the Philippines is also still, fundamentally, an agriculture nation. Agriculture employs more than 35 percent of its labor force with a sectoral contribution of at least 15 percent in the Philippines’ GDP. And yet, skewed development thrusts and policies in the last 30 years aggravated by a wanting land use and ownership policy, has constrained the ability of its farms to flourish and its farmers and fisher-folk from enjoying better livelihoods. The effect of this situation has been most telling on the Philippines’ battle against hunger and poverty, and the general ability of the nation to feed its people, affordable and quality food.

This reality was one of the most powerful incentives for the Arroyo administration’s headlong and focused thrusts into fiscal reform and its prioritization of food production infrastructure programs. In recent years, the government is arresting and reversing, the effects of 30 years of absent government infrastructure investments in irrigation, roads, airports, ports, post-harvest facilities, public markets, research, training and extension services. Consequently, rice yield increases per hectare has doubled in the last eight years from that of the last decade. In 2008, the year of the global food crisis, despite being one of the countries with the largest rice eating populations, the Philippines steered clear of the United Nations list of food insecure nations.

Today, the Philippines remains the world’s top producer of coconut products, abaca, and carageenan, and the eighth largest fish producer. It is a top supplier of mangoes, pineapples and bananas, and while the world groans in a recession, Philippine agriculture will continue to grow.

But despite all that, much needs to be done.

In the coming years, investments in agriculture must be sustained. Food pricing policies, crop insurance, extension services, credit and market access must be strengthened to ensure the rise of rural incomes. Most of all, agriculture and food production cannot be the concern of a few, nor a fad to be pursued every now and then. The cause of feeding the hungry through robust production and widespread distribution, must be transformed into a “national movement” with a sustained commitment not only from the National Government, but from local government units, NGOs, POs, civil society, the business sector and any association or person, who believe that access to food and freedom from hunger, are basic and inalienable rights.

The “Bayan-Anihan” movement, or “National Harvest” movement, launched together by Gawad Kalinga (GK) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) in 106 simultaneous sites last March 28, 2009, is one such movement. Drawing inspiration from President Arroyo’s bold food self-sufficiency program and Tony Meloto’s visionary program to shelter the Philippines’ homeless, it envisions a movement open to all with the fundamental premise that government alone, cannot be the problem solver but is merely the facilitator and catalyst, in bringing Filipinos, face to face with hunger and providing them the support so that ultimately, it is they who will address the injustice of hunger.

Using the DA’s programs, expertise and funds as a basic resource, GK sites will henceforth not only be characterized by brightly painted homes, but production plots green with vegetables and fruit trees tended by families. Corporate and citizen partners familiar with the GK system of counter-parting through sweat equity and financial pledges, are once again partners in an equally great cause.

We are all excited by this movement because it gives the DA the chance to work with the celebrated Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, Tony Meloto, who was once considered insane for dreaming that we can build shelter for the Philippines’ homeless. Together, join us, as we declare that in a land blessed with bounty, no one need go hungry. Beyond nourishing bodies, let us banish despair, restore hope and together declare, “Goodbye Gutom” (Goodbye Hunger!)

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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