Local government units (LGUs) are in a strategic position to perform the role of catalyst in promoting urban agriculture. This was asserted by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) in its policy paper on policy imperatives to promote urban agriculture among LGUs. The policy paper was co-authored by Rico Ancog of the University of the Philippines Los Baños; Searca Director Glenn Gregorio; Sta. Rosa City Rep. Arlene Arcillas; Erlinda Creencia of the Santa Rosa City government, Victorino Aquitania of the Council for Local Environmental Initiatives-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. According to Searca, the authors 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 policy paper said. Gregorio said studies have shown that 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. “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,” he said. Gregorio added that the policy 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. Proposed measures Under House Bill (HB) 3412 or the “Integrated Urban Agriculture,” in coordination with DA and Cooperative Development Authority, LGUs will tap neighborhood associations and people’s organizations to undertake community gardening. Last June 17, HB 3412 was approved by the House Committee on Agriculture to promote integrated urban agriculture to address food security problems affecting the country, which were exacerbated by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic. Negros Occidental Rep. Jose Francisco Benitez authored HB 3412 that 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.” The Searca paper highlights that the capacity of barangay officials on urban agriculture would be very critical to operationalize plans and projects. The authors said that as village officials formulate their own development plan, the villages 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. “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 (Bank of the Philippine Islands) and local state universities and colleges,” Ancog and his co-authors said. While HB 3412 has provisions for granting of incentives to participants in urban agriculture as well as 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 create an enabling environment to encourage LGU constituents to engage in urban agriculture. Gregorio said exploration of financing schemes would be essential to sustain efforts on urban agriculture by LGUs and its partners. 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,” Gregorio said.