SEARCA confab trains spotlight on family farms

National, News

Family farms account for more than 90% of all farms worldwide and as such they play a critical role in food production.

This was affirmed by Senator Cynthia A. Villar, Chair of the Philippine Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food in her keynote message at the 2nd National Small and Family Farmers/New and Beginning Farmers Conference hosted and co-organized by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) last month.

“Family farms are truly key players for inclusive growth and rural development, as well as to our food-secure future,” she said.

Held in partnership with MoCA Family Farm and RLearning Center, a leading member of the Pamilyang Filipino Farmers, the conference was convened to promote the creation of systems of farming capable of maintaining their productivity and usefulness to the community. Its theme centered on how to mobilize small and family farmers as well as new farmers for food security, sustainable tourism, and rural development.

Villar said the national forum puts importance and priority to small and family farmers, whose contributions to society should not be belittled.

She noted that the agriculture sector supports two-thirds of the country’s economy. With the surging population, she said there is strong pressure in the agriculture sector to produce more food. Therefore, small and family farms have important roles to play in ensuring the country’s food security. She encouraged the participants not to leave their farms because the future generations depend on them for food.

Villar outlined several major legislations that have been passed in the Senate to help farmers. These include the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act, which creates the coconut levy trust fund that would provide interventions for the coconut industry’s development.

The Free Irrigation Service to Small Farmers Act 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.

The Farm Tourism Development Act seeks to promote environment-friendly, efficient, and sustainable farm practices. It also provides alternative recreation facilities and farm tourism activities for families, students, and other clientele; as well as promotes health and wellness with high-quality farm-produced food.

The Rice Tariffication 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 with 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 authored she made sure there is adequate funds to provide research and development and further training of farmers, and guarantees that family farmers will be the center of agricultural policies and programs.

SEARCA’s priority focus on promoting the greater and more competitive participation of smallholder farmers in the growing agricultural food markets to ensure their maximum benefit while contributing to the larger objective of addressing food security and poverty alleviation in the rural countryside was elaborated by Dr. Fernando C. Sanchez, Jr., country representative of the Philippines to SEARCA’s Governing Board and Chancellor of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).

He also noted that “this new trend of family farming makes agriculture literally closer to home and to the young people and other non-faming sectors as well.”

The conference also highlighted stories of farmer “heroes,” millennial and Generation-Z farmers, and challenges of family farming. There were also presentations on seed technology and the organization of the Pamilyang Filipino Farmers Agricultural Cooperative.

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