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Use of idle lands for agriculture sought

[ Manila Bulletin Online ] July 22, 2008

Sen. Edgardo J. Angara, chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Food Committee, sought yesterday the immediate use of one million hectares of idle and barely used lands for agricultural production to augment to the country’s shrinking areas planted to rice.

Angara, a former University of the Philippines (UP) president, pointed out that the enactment of a comprehensive land use plan would cushion the country from the prevailing rice problem and eventually boost long-term sustainability of the agriculture sector.

Immediate use of the one million hectares of idle and barely used lands would supplement the more than one million hectares of fully irrigated lands and the more than two million hectares of rain-fed rice areas, Angara said.

"Mobilizing these idle lands for full agricultural production will not be expensive and will be worth the cost of development," Angara, a Department of Agriculture (DA) secretary during the later years of the Estrada administration, said.

"The rice crisis we now experience today, characterized by sudden spikes in rice prices that make it unaffordable to many Filipinos, is a global problem. While rice supply in the country is still sufficient, we are very much vulnerable to sudden changes in global prices and supply. The country is the largest importer of rice, importing 1.874 metric tons of rice, or 10-15 percent of total consumption last year," Angara explained.

"Our rice fields have one of the most productive potential in Asia, almost double of the current average three metric tons per hectare yield of our farms. We even have a larger yield per hectare than Thailand, the world’s largest rice exporter," he added.

Should a comprehensive land use plan be finally enacted, Angara projected that all lands in the country would be utilized to serve the needs of the nation with regard to food security.

"The country’s agricultural areas, including prime rice lands, have been shrinking at an alarming pace," Angara said.

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