Lawmaker: Urban farms can help cut poverty

Photo shows an urban garden in Barangay San Antonio in Pasig City.

TO increase food production, a lawmaker is pushing for the passage of the proposed Integrated Urban Agriculture Act, which seeks to maximize available spaces and utilize emerging agricultural technologies and methods.

In House Bill 72, Negros Occidental Rep. Jose Francisco Benitez said the promotion of household-, community- and school-based urban agriculture will contribute to food security and poverty reduction, strengthen community-building and support the National Greening Program.

“Urban agriculture also puts value in otherwise idle urban spaces, maximizing limited land resources that are increasingly shrinking due to rapid urbanization and unsustainable urban development,” he added.

Citing the First Quarter 2022 Survey of the Social Weather Station, Benitez said hunger has worsened from 11.8 percent in December 2021 to 12.2 percent. This translates to 3.1 million families experiencing involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months prior to the survey.

The bill covers idle or abandoned government or private lands, buildings, shipping containers, subdivisions or villages, public housing, open spaces in all urban, peri-urban and urbanizable areas in the country; and all available land resources and buildings in schools, state or private universities and colleges, military camps suitable for growing crops and raising poultry, livestock and aquaculture.

However, the bill said the utilization of idle lands for urban agriculture purposes will not be used as grounds for the eviction of informal settler families occupying the lands.

Also, the measure said the raising of poultry and livestock will be limited to “urbanizable” areas and all livestock raising shall be subject to health and safety standards and regulations issued by the Department of Health, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development (DHSUD) and other relevant government agencies.

Under the bill, local government units (LGUs) will identify and develop idle government and private lands and buildings, without prejudice to the rights of owners of private lands, buildings and open spaces, within their jurisdiction, for full or partial conversion solely to community gardens, food forest gardens, indoor farms and/or vertical farms to support food security and community nutrition.

It indicated that food forest gardens and urban farms adopting agro-ecological principles will be the priority form of urban agriculture wherever applicable and feasible.

The bill said all LGUs, in coordination with the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA), will capacitate neighborhood associations and people’s organizations, and facilitate the organization and registration of community-based cooperatives, to undertake community gardening and establish community farmers’ markets.

Role of LGUs

IT said the DHSUD and DA will promote sustainable, smart and organic food production systems that harness the benefits of new technologies and methods in soil, nutrient, water and energy management, such as composting, rainwater harvesting and utilization of renewable energy.

The DHSUD will also ensure the rational use of land resources in urban planning to promote sustainable peri-urban interface, as well as for the spatial requirements of supply chain management and logistics to strengthen urban-rural foodshed linkages.

Towards these ends, the DHSUD will promulgate guidelines for the harmonization of the comprehensive land use plans and zoning ordinances of LGUs with urban agriculture policies, frameworks, strategies and standards.

The bill mandates all LGUs to incorporate urban agricultural development in their respective Annual Development Plans, Annual Investment Plans, Physical Framework Plans, and Development Master Plans including the hiring of agriculturists and agricultural and biosystems engineers to carry out urban agriculture programs.

It said LGUs, with the assistance of the DA, Department of Interior and Local Government and the Department of Information and Communications Technology, will establish and maintain a digital information system. This information system will facilitate the efficient collection, management and analysis of urban food systems, agriculture and nutrition data, as well as the monitoring and evaluation of LGU performance vis-à-vis the food system agriculture and nutrition targets.

The Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education, with the technical assistance of the DA, will integrate urban agriculture in the academic curriculum for elementary, secondary and tertiary level students of both public and private academic institutions offering courses in Agriculture, Practical Arts, Home Economics and other subjects related to agriculture.

Compliance by subdivision and condominium developers and owners may qualify them for incentives provided for under Republic Act (RA) 10771, otherwise known as the “Philippine Green Jobs Act of 2016,” subject to the rules and regulations promulgated by the Department of Finance and the DHSUD.

Loans extended by government and private banks to participating individuals, corporations and partnerships will be treated as compliance with RA 10000 or “The Agri-Agra Reform Credit Act of 2009.”

The measure also creates a National Convergence Program on Urban Agriculture and Aquaculture, which will be headed by the DA, to develop and sustain concerted action to promote urban agriculture.

Image credits: www.santonio.pasigcity.gov.ph

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