By Karen Martinez

F-I-E-L-D-S… This is the answer of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the continuing rice crisis. Concomitantly, it is at aimed stabilizing and increasing rice supply, make food abundant and affordable and hopefully, make our country self sufficient by 2010.

F-I-E-L-D-S stands for Fertilizer, Irrigation and Infrastructure, Education and Extension, Loans, Dryers and other post harvest facilities, and Seeds, a food production drive clustered into six assistance packages: P500 million is to be allocated for support and production of fertilizer; P6 billion a year for construction of new irrigation and reconstruction of old ones; P6 billion a year for infrastructure, such as farm-to-market roads and “no frills” airport for agricultural cargo; P3 billion for education and extension to be handled by the Department of Science and Technology (P1 billion each allotted for capability building, trainers and technicians; and lastly, agriculture and fisheries education system); P15 billion available for agricultural credit as assured by Gary Teves and additional P5 billion available for rice farmers coming from Land Bank; P2 billion will be spent for dryers and other post harvest facilities and lastly, P8 billion for seed production (P6.5 billion for certified seeds and P2.7 billion for hybrid seeds) — a total of P41.7 billion in order to address the crisis.

Keeping in line with PGMA’s P40.5 billion FIELDS program, Department of Agriculture Sec. Arthur Yap just signed a five-year cooperation agreement with the Philippine-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to boost domestic “palay” production. The cooperation includes irrigation, technology, extension services and credit support. Cooperation and active involvement from the LGUs from the different provinces nationwide was also sought by Yap to implement the clustering approach, which under the DA is called “Ginintuang Masaganang Ani” rice program for active monitoring and extension work. “This DA-LGU partnership is crucial to the self-sufficiency plan,” he said, “because this medium-term program’s success on the ground will depend on the cooperation of LGUs,” specifically reaching out to the governors and mayors to work hand in hand with DA to attain self sufficiency and long term food security.

Also, for the first time ever, a national post-harvest program will be implemented through the distribution of community-based flatbed dryers and drying centrals that seek to check more than 5% in annual post harvest losses, he said. It has been reported that 30% of grains is lost due to improper handling and lack of drying facilities and storage.

President Arroyo, however, emphasized that in all these government programs that will be implemented to address the current crisis should be “transparent.”

President Arroyo said she is amenable to the proposal of our very own Rep. Baham Mitra, chairman of the House committee on agriculture, to appoint a Deputy Ombudsman at the Department of Agriculture to carefully watch and monitor its transactions, considering that farm spending is now perhaps larger than the budget allotted for defense. This is just to ensure that the money is spent wisely and in pursuance of transparency initiatives.

Apart from this recent proposal, Mitra, with the full support of House Speaker Prospero Nograles, proposed to get the active involvement of the top 100 companies in the country to get into “corporate farming,” which is aimed at enhancing production efficiency and ensure food supply for their employees and families.

According to Mitra, these corporations have the capability and sufficient funds to establish their own farms unlike ordinary Filipinos. They should work hand in hand with the government in controlling the problem for their employees are affected by it as well and will be the ones having a hard time.

True to form, the lawmaker is currently conducting regional consultations on food security with the farmers from provinces nationwide, like Pangasinan, Cavite, Batangas, Davao, Cebu, Bohol, etc. In his consultations, he came to know that the shortage in rice supply is caused by the government’s inability to support the agricultural sector — high cost of fertilizers, lack of seed subsidy and poor irrigation that have forced small time farmers out of business.

He suggests that the government should start using GOCC (Government Owned and Controlled Corporations) idle lands, military camps and installations and prisons that have agricultural lands.

However, long before Mitra and Nograles called for corporate farming, San Miguel Corporation has already been assessing the rice situation in the country. San Miguel has been stealthily forming joint venture partnerships with several financial institutions, cooperatives and local government units to implement corporate farming on 5,000 hectares of irrigated rice lands in Zamboanga del Sur. Hybrid seeds will be used together with fertilizers, pesticides, crop insurance and other necessary technical support will be provided. The manpower requirement of this project will be provided by the farmers’ cooperatives, having a profit sharing agreement with SMC.

Much of the credit for this project goes to SMC President Ramon Ang, they are surely serving as a template for other corporations on Corporate Social Responsibility, making a difference and being proactive, engaging the company in projects that dont just serve or help the immediate community but the rest of the country as well.

Today, I stand firm in optimism, my love for country and respect for the land where I come from, is fully restored. The government with the support of the private sector and other concerned agencies will overcome this crisis with flying colors. It will take a lot of willpower and perseverance, steadily focusing on our objective which is to attain Self Sufficiency. Let us all play an active role to help and work toward the Nations’ leaders’ GOAL.