Government to build over 2,000 kms of farm-to-market roads
Manila (26 February) -- The Department of Agriculture (DA) is building starting this week various farm-to-market roads (FMRs) spanning over 2,000 kilometers nationwide that will create an estimated 53,000 jobs as part of the Arroyo administration's economic stimulus program designed to help Filipinos weather the global economic slowdown that is expected to worsen this year.
A Secretary Arthur Yap said that besides creating more jobs, the projects are also expected to benefit over 212,000 farmers in food-producing and hunger-prone areas across the country.
President Arroyo ordered the DA and other agencies last January to frontload labor-intensive projects in line with her P330-billion economic resiliency program that is meant to stimulate the domestic economy and generate about 1.5 million jobs by midyear alone.
Yap, who is the Cabinet coordinator for President Arroyo's Comprehensive Livelihood and Emergency Employment Program (CLEEP) in Northern Luzon and Bohol, said that more than half of the total length of these FMRs would be built in Central Philippines and the Mindanao Super Region, where major food production sites are located.
The 567.60 kilometers of FMRs to be built in Central Philippines are expected to benefit 56,760 farmers and create 14,190 new jobs, while the 536.94 kilometers of roads in Mindanao will have 53,694 direct farmer-beneficiaries and require 13,424 workers.
The North Luzon Agribusiness Quadrangle, where Yap has been designated by the President as its development champion, will have 420.80 kilometers of new FMRs that will benefit 42,080 farmers and generate 10,520 jobs while 366.80 kilometers of FMRs will be constructed in the Metro Luzon Urban Beltway, which include Central Luzon, to help 36,680 farmers and create 9,170 jobs.
Another 230.80 kilometers of FMRs will be constructed in other priority areas identified by the DA, which will create 5,770 jobs and benefit 23,080 farmers.
Yap said that in compliance with the provisions of the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA) Program, these FMR projects worth a collective total of P5.3 billion will be located within Key Production Areas (KPA), marginal lands or new sites under convergence initiatives which link these areas to higher road class systems and major markets or trading posts.
These FMRs will also be constructed in sites that link other non-convergence areas within the Strategic Agricultural and Fisheries Development Zones (SAFDZs), Community-Based Forest Management Agreements (CBFMAs), and Agrarian Reform Communities (ARCs) to markets and trading posts; and may be located within the areas identified by the National Nutrition Council (NNC) as "very vulnerable areas," in line with the hunger mitigating measures of the government or within peace-conflicted areas.
Yap had earlier ordered DA regional directors to immediately bid out its labor-intensive, high-impact projects in keeping with President Arroyo's CLEEP.
The plan, said Yap, is for the DA to speed up the implementation of these intervention projects in the first semester of the year to create a lot of jobs and stimulate economic activity in the countryside by the time the full brunt of the global financial crisis is expected to be felt in the Philippines.
He noted that expediting the bidding process would help speed up the release of funds for such projects, given that under government auditing rules, no disbursements can be made unless the bidding processes are completed and the winning bidders are named.
Yap said the DA would closely monitor the implementation of its high-impact projects to ensure the judicious disbursement of funds particularly to its program partners in the private sector.
He has already created national and regional monitoring teams to conduct "periodic field validation and rapid appraisal" of the Department's intervention measures under its banner program Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA), and the adoption of stringent guidelines on the release of funds to program partners like nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and people's organizations (POs).
To maximize the use of DA funds, Yap said the DA is also shifting its focus this year on hard or "big-ticket" projects covering irrigation maintenance, postharvest facilities, FMRs and rural extension work, in lieu of "soft" projects like fertilizer support to farmers.
For instance, instead of the fertilizer discount coupons that the DA gave out in 2008 to farmer-beneficiaries in partnership with local government units (LGUs), the Department is providing organic fertilizer manufacturing support to farmers in 2,600 clusters or sites where the DA is channeling a bulk of its funds for intervention measures in 2009.
These clusters of adjacent or neighboring farms are spread out across 48 provinces mostly in rainfed areas where per-hectare yields are below the national average of 3.8 tons of palay per hectare. (PNA) [top]