By Marianne V. Go Updated December 29, 2008 12:00 AM
[ philstar.com ]
Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap is urging Congress to immediately act on the long-pending Land Use Code to stop the unbridled conversion of prime farmlands into non-agricultural uses such as industrial parks, shopping malls, golf courses or housing projects.
Yap said the absence of a national land use policy that identifies which areas in the country should be developed for agricultural, residential and industrial purposes has forced President Arroyo instead to impose a moratorium on the conversion of farm lands into non-agricultural uses.
Yap expressed hope Congress would finally pass the bill when it resumes session next year. Both chambers are on their traditional Christmas break and will resume session on Jan. 19.
With a national land use policy, Yap said the government could pinpoint which lands can be used for non-agricultural purposes, he added.
Such a land use policy would also allow government to identify areas for the development of the domestic biofuels sector.
With four million hectares devoted to food production, the option left for farmers is to plant crops for biofuels feedstock like jatropha and cassava in the uplands.
“We cannot convert our premium lands devoted to food production. If we want to expand our biofuels crops, we have to go to the uplands,” Yap said.
“That’s why we are calling on Congress to pass the Land Use Code so that we can delineate which lands can be used for agricultural and non-agricultural purposes.”
Senate Bill 76 filed by Sen. Loren Legarda and House Bill 3175 authored by Rep. Antonio Cerilles aim to categorize lands either for agricultural production, human settlements, infrastructure development or as protected areas.
Yap argued that aside from providing Filipino farmers with alternative sources of income, the development of the biofuels sector would help the country become less dependent on imported, pollution-generating fossil fuel.
He pointed out that although prices of crude oil in the world market have dropped from $140 to as low as $34 per barrel, prices could jump back to its above-$100 per barrel levels once financial reforms and economic stimulus programs being put in place to resolve the crisis take effect.
With the world expecting only temporary relief from high fuel prices, Yap said the Philippines can cash in on the biofuels boom and tap large markets like Japan which is now exploring environment-friendly sources of energy.
Japan will turn to Asia instead of South America to supply its biofuel requirements to save on freight costs, an opportunity that the Philippines should not pass up given its excellent bilateral and cultural ties with Tokyo.