31 March 2019

“Malaki ang maitutulong ng pag-unlad ng Mindanao sa kaunlaran ng ating bansa. Oras na para maisama naman ang mga taga-rehiyon sa mga plano ng gobyerno sa kinabukasan ng lahat, kasama na dito ang pagpa-plano para sa matinding tagtuyot.”

Marawi civic leader and peacebuilder Samira Gutoc had this to say today, as she stressed Mindanao’s potential to drive agriculture progress and generate jobs for Filipinos.

“But for this to materialize, the government has to do everything in its powers to avert a farming and food crisis in the resources-rich region by addressing the effects of El Nino,” Gutoc, an #OtsoDiretso opposition senatorial candidate, said.

She explained that studies conducted by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) have shown that higher rice production – or any crop for that matter – means higher job generation particularly in conflict areas where the poverty incidence is high, like in Mindanao.

“The growing rate of unemployment in the country, particularly in rural areas, is one of the primary hurdles we want to overcome. Even in this aspect, Mindanao also has the potential to unlock a more vibrant economic activity and development for the country. But in order to generate more jobs and opportunities, we must work towards a sustainable agriculture industry in the archipelago,” Gutoc, a known peacebuilder, explained.

“Mindanao currently accounts for 15 percent of the country’s GDP and 40 percent of agricultural production. But it can contribute much more to the Philippine economy first and foremost, if we help its agriculture industry flourish through strong policies and unwavering government support,” the long-time community organizer from Mindanao said.

A study by the PIDS in 2016 noted that 1.2 million hectares in Mindanao are planted with rice, accounting for 25 percent of the country’s total rice production. The estimated number of jobs from rice production in Mindanao is more than 350,000 based on an estimate of one full-time job for every 3.3. hectares cultivated per season. This excludes jobs in post-production and marketing.

“In order to generate more jobs, we should aim at improving productivity. To improve productivity, the government must focus its resources and efforts on solving the following: inadequate access to better seeds, high costs of fertilizer and pesticides, access to technology, insufficient access to irrigation, high labor costs, limited access to credit, limited intercropping, poor road conditions, as well as power interruptions that cause delays in production,” the former journalist said.

Gutoc is the former spokesperson of the Ranao Rescue Team, which led rescue missions and relief operations at the height of the Marawi siege in 2017. For her exceptional work in peacebuilding and advocacy of women’s rights and the marginalized sector during this crisis, Gutoc has been honored with the 2018 N-Peace Award Untold Stories Philippines.

“There should also be sufficient funding for research and development for the agriculture sector, protection of rice lands from land-use conversion, equitable access to land, and strong support for farmers. Most importantly, the state must acknowledge the principle that food security could be achieved through self-sufficiency and not by importation,” the recent UNDP N-Peace awardee said.

“Mindanao progress is also the progress of the Philippines. The development of Mindanao, and the realization of the dreams of its people can help – if not lead – Philippines’ economic progress. Investing critical government programs in Mindanao is taking the leap towards a progressive future,” Gutoc underscored.

“But what is happening to Cebu, now placed under a state of calamity because of the drought, should not happen to Mindanao and other parts of the country for that matter. The goverment should take proactive steps to protect our farmers.” ###

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Samira Gutoc, an Otso Diretso senatorial candidate, champions peace. She was recognized by the Philippine Daily Inquirer as Filipino of the Year in 2017 and by the Junior Chamber International as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM).