LOS BAÑOS, Laguna: "Family farms are truly key players for inclusive growth and rural development, as well as to our food secure future."
Thus said Sen. Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate Agriculture and Food Committee during her keynote speech at the 2nd National Small and Family Farmers/New and Beginning Farmers Conference held at the headquarters of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture here last September 20-21.
The conference aimed to promote the creation of systems of farming capable of maintaining their productivity and usefulness to the community. The conference's central theme was how to mobilize small and family farmers/new and beginning farmers for food security, sustainable tourism, and rural development.
Villar said that she was glad the event gave importance and priority to small and family farmers, who should not belittle their contributions to society. The agriculture sector, she noted, supports two-thirds of the country's economy. With the surging population, she said there is a strong pressure in the agriculture sector to produce more food, and small and family farms have important roles to play in terms of the country's food security. She encouraged the participants not to leave their farms because the future generations depend on them for food.
She outlined several major legislations that have been passed in the Senate to help the farmers. These include the following:
Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act, which creates the coconut levy trust fund that would provide interventions for the coconut industry's development;
Free Irrigation Service to Small Farmers Act, which gives free irrigation to farmers who own land not larger than eight hectares and condones unpaid irrigation fees and writing off of loans of farmers who own the same size of land;
Farm Tourism Development Act, which seeks to promote environment-friendly, efficient and sustainable farm practices; provide alternative recreation facilities and farm tourism activities for families, students and other clientele; and promote health and wellness with high-quality farm-produced food.
Rice Tarrification Bill, which provides for the removal of the prescribed rice import volume and rice imports can eventually be opened to private rice traders who can import additional volumes of the crop from Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam but will have to pay a 35-percent tariff. The collected tariffs will be used to fund mass irrigation, warehousing and rice research.
Villar emphasized that in all the bills she has authored, she made sure there was adequate fund to provide research and development and further training of farmers, and guarantee that family farmers would be the center of agricultural policies and programs.