MANILA (Phlilippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network): The recent report of the Social Weather Stations on hunger in the country highlights not only the failure of government to address poverty, but also the relationship between people’s access to food, agricultural production, and land use.
The report cites that 11.8 per cent of Filipino households (about three million families) experience hunger and 33 per cent (around four million) of Filipino children under five years old are malnourished. Hunger results in undernutrition and malnutrition, which, in turn, lead to “high stunting” among children, which means they are unlikely to reach their full mental and physical potential.
This seriously undermines all other efforts to upgrade people’s quality of life.
A major contributor to the problem of hunger in many regions of the country is the decline in local food production due to the increasing loss of agricultural land caused by uncontrolled urban growth and economic globalisation.
The negative consequences of these processes can, however, be negated, and their benefits derived through effective regional land use planning and management.
This requires bridging the “rural” and “urban” divide. Economic change and development over the years have intensified the distinction between “urban” and “rural” areas and conditions. It praises the all-consuming growth of large cities and laments rural communities as devoid of economic potential. It isolates and pits urban and rural areas against each other.
Rural specialists rarely mention urban areas, even though most farming households depend on urban demand (for consumers or industries) for part of their livelihood. Non-farm employment is often an important part of rural livelihoods, as some members of rural households commute to work in urban areas.
Most rural producers rely on urban centres for access to markets, agricultural services, credit, and farm equipment and supplies. Much of the rural population relies on local urban centres, for most of their retail purchases, and access to public and private services (e.g., schools, health care, government services, etc.).
On the other hand, urban specialists ignore agriculture and rural demand, concentrating on what’s happening in urban areas, even though many urban households have rural components in their livelihood.
In many urban centres, the whole basis for prosperity is a combination of rural demand for goods and services, and the value added that is derived from local crops. The urban labour force often includes a significant number of rural commuters or rural dwellers who work seasonally in urban centres. Urban boundaries may be drawn that include large areas of agricultural land and significant proportion of the “urban” labor force working in agriculture.
These interrelationships reflect the reciprocal and repetitive flow of people, goods, information, financial, and other services between rural, peri-urban, and rural areas, which are interdependent. They are socio-spatial arrangements, creating places with distinct yet interwoven socially constructed identities.
Many studies and projects over the past few decades have shown that synergy between agricultural production and urban-based enterprises is often the key to the development of more vibrant local economies and more pro-poor regional development. Integrated urban and rural areas can boost each other’s economies, with ripple effects of that success felt throughout the region.
Regional development policies based on an integrated planning approach should aim to curtail the negative consequences of urban agglomeration and uneven growth.
In order to achieve this, emphasis must be placed on the development of small- and medium-sized towns; the improvement of connectivity via both sustainable transport connections and ICT; and developing better ways of governing and managing existing informal areas in the peri-urban interface, especially those under multiple administrative jurisdictions.
The goal, in addition to ensuring food security and environmental revitalisation, is to redirect the benefits of development more equitably among rural and urban citizens.
*** The writer is a fellow and past president of the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners and the Principal Urban Planner of the consulting firm CONCEP Inc