Loren pushes agricultural extension reforms to boost food production

PNS — Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on food and agriculture, yesterday (Oct. 13) advocated for reforms in the agricultural extension system and for higher salaries for its 20,000 workers to boost food production in the light of grave natural disasters caused by climate change.

In a speech to the third National Agricultural, Fisheries, Forestry and Natural Resources Symposium at the Heritage Hotel in Manila, Loren declared that agricultural extension work has been largely ineffective because of the failure to devolve resources along with responsibility to the local government units.

“Being unprepared and not knowing how to direct agricultural growth … the local government officials … could not be faulted if they were not given the proper guidance and advice in their decentralized responsibilities, and corresponding financial resources for the devolved functions,” said Loren.

“The country has about 20,000 extension workers mostly employed by the LGUs (local government units) who are tasked to educate and teach the millions of farmers and fisherfolk. Yet these workers, as many studies have shown, suffer from low morale and skills, especially those in the 4th to 6th class LGUs.

“These personnel are paid much less than their counterparts in the national and better-off LGUs. Because of the poor financial situation and the lack of attention by many local governments, many of these personnel have not been able to keep up with new knowledge and skills.

“Worst, they have not been able to undertake their duties of teaching and providing advice to farmers and fisherfolk on agriculture and fishery activities. The reasons are partly the weakness in local government administration and partly the refusal of the national government to devolve the resources to finance extension activities,” she averred.

Loren also disclosed that farmers have complained that extension workers are not seen in the field as much as they should be to advice them in all aspects of aspects of agriculture and fishery production, especially in times of calamities. Extension workers guide farmers on technical and practical aspects of farming, such as choice of crops and marketing strategy, as well as in the application for and proper use of farm loans.

Loren called upon Congress to pass the Agricultural Extension bill that would reform the agricultural extension system, including the provision of more financial resources from the national government to the LGUs to support agricultural extension work.

Under the proposed law, the national government will shoulder the salaries of the local extension workers law under a counterpart or matching scheme. The money that will be saved by the LGUs will be used for agricultural activities, such as the transportation for extension workers and other services.

Loren said she would add a provision that would allocate strictly for the use of agriculture and fisheries 5 percent or P13.2 billion to 10 percent or PhP26.5 billion of the Internal Revenue Allotment for agricultural extension services.

“The bill will also give the local extension personnel the opportunity to have a promising career path. It will allow us to professionalize the extension services,” said Loren.

“Agricultural extension services have to come up with strategies to help subsistence farmers in organizing themselves for commercializing their operations profitably. Agricultural extension services have to translate the concept of farmers’ participation into action, promoting a bottom-up approach in decision making, planning and program implementation,” Loren stressed.

She also said that farmers should be taught to address environmental concerns in the light of the terrible devastation and casualties wrought by by phoons Ondoy and Pepeng which have been attributed to global warming.

“There is no way for a profession like farming, which depends on nature, to ignore environmental concerns. Environment-friendly measures must be adopted in agricultural activities and these are taught to the farmers through extension,” Loren declared.