House leader pitches food sovereignty bill amid global crises

AS the Covid-19 pandemic has adversely affected food security all over the world, the chief of the House Committee on People’s Participation is pushing for the passage of the proposed National Food Sovereignty Act.

House Bill 1493, according to San Jose Del Monte City Rep. Florida Robes, seeks to enhance food security and ultimately achieve food sovereignty through the efficient production, processing, marketing and distribution of agricultural products, rationalizing and restructuring for the purpose, existing government organizations in agricultural production, distribution, marketing and other support programs.

“The pandemic has reduced incomes and disrupted food supply chains. The condition was exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict which has aggravated hunger and poverty all over the world. The Philippines is no exception to these adverse effects as Filipinos continue to feel the crisis brought about by the exponential increase in fuel prices and ultimately the prices of all kinds of commodities,” she said.

“To remedy the situation in order to reverse the trend of food insecurity in the country, necessary steps must be initiated to support, diversify and transform the country’s agricultural output through cooperatives, investments in technology and innovation that prioritize the needs of the farmers must be put in place,” Robes added.

Robes said her bill addresses the longtime need of agricultural workers, especially farmer-beneficiaries of land reform, to access support, access to credit, market opportunities, among others.

“Government intervention is needed to institutionalize ways of packaging factor inputs in agriculture to bring about innovative, efficient and competitive modes of production and marketing. Otherwise, support services like extension, information, and infrastructure will not be sufficient to overcome the perceived production risks that deter the farmer from venturing into higher value crops,” she said.

The bill rationalizes and restructures the existing government organizations in order to establish harmony and coordination between policy-making and implementation, and market development programs geared towards supporting the farmer as he transforms himself into an entrepreneur.

More than food security, Robes said the bill establishes the Food Sovereignty program, as envisioned by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos Jr., which puts control back in the community’s hands by directly linking farmers and fishermen to the consumers and thereby limiting number of people in the value chain, adopting modern techniques, incentivizing research and development to promote innovation and transforming agricultural workers into entrepreneurs.

To achieve all of these, the bill creates the National Agricultural Marketing Council to serve as the policy-making body for agricultural trading, with the Regional Agricultural Marketing Councils as its branch offices.

These attached agencies are also created to serve proprietary roles in market development and intervention:

The National Agricultural Trading Corporation (Natcor), to function as the market development and intervention arm of the council.

The Public Warehousing Corporation, to operate Commodity Exchange Centers (CECs), establish terminal markets all over the country, and maintain the country’s buffer stocks  of food grain and other food commodities

The Agricultural Credit and Guarantee Corporation of the Philippines  (Agcredor) to provide credit assistance and guarantee cover on project bans and inventory  financing for commodities deposited in the Public Warehousing Corporation’s  warehouses.

These agencies will absorb the functions and resources of the Agribusiness Group, the National Agribusiness Corporation, the Agricultural Credit Policy Council, the Quedarl and Rural Credit and Guarantee Corporation of the Philippines and the National Food Authority.

Under the proposed set-up, the specialized functions are clearly identified, delineated and distributed among the appropriate agencies so as to avoid conflict-of-interest situations that have so often hamstrung past policy making and implementation.

“In the Philippine countryside, the government must confront the challenge to develop the market institutions that will put a stop to the massive waste of resources, bring productive inputs together, pave the way for more innovative modes of production and deliver our products  to national, regional and international markets,” said Robes.

Robes, who remains chairman of the House Committee on People’s Participation from the previous 18th Congress, said the proposed National Food Sovereignty Act is one of her 23 filed bills.

“[I’m] committed to make the 19th Congress a very productive Congress by passing these bills,” said Robes.

Robes, meanwhile, also filed HB 1501, which instituting a re-employment program for retired employees and workers in the civil service and private sector and for other purposes;  HB to establish a framework for citizens’ participation in legislation and rule-making through the use of information and communications technology platforms;  HB 1509 to declare the city of San Jose Del Monte in the province of Bulacan as human resource capital; and HB 2904 to establish the Philippine Virology Science and Technology Institute.

Image credits: Robinson Ninal Jr./Malacañang Presidential Photographers Division via AP