Los Baños, Laguna: Senior members of the academe and farm scientists here strongly urged the government to stop the conversion of prime agricultural lands into commercial purposes to resuscitate the agriculture sector which continues to ail as a result of the devastation caused by super typhoon Yolanda and other natural calamities.
The call was made as the national government reported significant loses in the farm sector estimated at P10.59 billion covering areas in eastern Visayas and parts of Southern Luzon.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) said the damage incurred by palay farmers was estimated at P2.38 billion involving almost 78,000 hectares.
Dr. Domingo E. Angeles, dean of the College of Agriculture of the University of the Philippines Los Banos (UPLB), said farmlands are shrinking because these are being converted into commercial uses.
“The government should not only impose a moratorium, but must even prohibit the conversion of prime farmlands into commercial uses if only to save what has been left of the country’s premier agricultural lands,” he said.
Angeles took note of the speedy change in the country’s agricultural landscape sacrificing in effect millions of pesos worth of irrigation projects and million tons of palay yields that should have sustained the annual rice supply of Filipinos without any difficulties.
He said a moratorium on land conversion must cover fertile farmlands or those being fed by irrigation systems. Angeles said officials of the Agriculture department and UPLB have held consultations on the matter.
The discussions, he said, not only tackled land conversion moratorium but also the need for farmers to plant other high-value crops which would give better yield and income.
Citing figures from the Center for Land Use Policy, Planning and Implementation, Angeles said that from 1979 to September 2005, the center approved for land use conversion some 43,141.64 hectares representing 37 per cent for residential use.
A similar stand was aired by Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) branch manager Diego G. Ramos, who described the rate of land conversion “disturbing”
“The impact of conversion is damaging and if it will not be stopped, we will be compelled to continuously import rice,” Ramos stressed.
The PhilRice, which provides the certified palay seed requirements of farmers, has taken measures to protect farmlands and their produce by establishing branch and satellite offices in Sta. Cruz, Mindoro Occidental, Samar and Mindanao.
Ramos urged the national government to seriously review its policy on land use conversion to ensure that only non-essential farmlands are converted into other uses while those being fed by irrigation are spared.
A senior UPLB rice researcher, Rene L Limosinero underscored the need to stop land conversion and for the national government to undertake a serious study on the remaining prime lands before they are transformed into non-agricultural uses.
“In 1975, land use conversion was introduced too fast in the province of Laguna where industrial centers, housing projects and malls were built easing out the substantial yields of farmlands planted to palay,” Limosinero said. He cited as example the huge farmland which was transformed into Pacita Complex in San Pedro, Laguna.