In recent years, the youth in Negros, even those from farming families, have grown less and less likely to choose farming as a profession. They have opted to seek factory or office jobs. This trend has the potential of creating problems for the province, which relies heavily on agriculture for its income. Thus, the Gulayan at Palaisdaan Alay sa Kabataan (GPAK) or Vegetable Farms and Fisheries for the Youth program was created to address this concern. It was launched in March 2002 by Gov. George Arnaiz and has helped increase agricultural production, and reduce poverty and hunger by maximizing the productivity of school gardens.
The program was designed to provide schools with additional income and supplies of vegetables and fish for its feeding program; serve as a vehicle for relevant education of children and their family; complement the government’s goal of food production to attain sustainable agriculture; and enhance the socio-cultural well-being of the people and the community.
From a total of 1,456 hectares devoted to vegetable husbandry in Oriental Negros before GPAK was launched, the area devoted to vegetable farms increased by 139.31 hectares with the inclusion of idle school lots. This translated into a 9.7% contribution to the province’s total vegetable area and about 8.4% or 668 metric tons in production. The program also added 8% to the tilapia production in the province with the establishment of 23 ponds. In the last three years, the province’s total tilapia (a white fish) production was 49 metric tons, with GPAK production accounting for 3.98 metric tons.
The availability of fresh vegetables and fish benefited the school-feeding program, minimizing school expenses by up to 40%. Most importantly, this reduced malnutrition among school pupils from 39.21% in 2002-2004 to 22.90% in SY 2004-2005. For the schools, the program generated a total of 1.670 million Philippine pesos during the project’s first three years. The amount helped the schools fund improvement of their facilities and supported their gardening needs. This initiative to involve youth in food production for schools received the Galing Pook Foundation’s 2005 “Top Ten Outstanding Local Government Programs” Award.
Another agricultural initiative, the Barangay Agricultural Development Center (BADC), launched in October 1998, strove to address the needs of the people in rural areas, minimize insurgency, and provide government services in the agricultural sector. Its guiding principle is the empowerment of citizens, and it has elicited active participation of small farmers. The program also increased farm family income by 15% from its 1997 level.
Among BADC’s innovative features is that it uses a multi-level approach to development; it serves as a training center for agriculture and fishery development, as well as a venue for convergence of government and non-government services in far-flung and under-served areas.
Its beneficiaries are 28 farmers groups with 1,221 members, 22 rural improvement clubs with 612 members and 26 4-H Clubs with 1,040 members. The program has contributed to the eradication of extreme poverty. It has increased the average family income from 71,574 Philippine pesos in 1997 to 94,077 pesos in 2004. Agricultural productivity also increased: rice production increased by 60%, corn production by 212%, and vegetables by 26%.
BADC also facilitated small farmers’ access to credit from financing institutions, such as Quedancor and the Land Bank of the Philippines. This helped increase entrepreneurial activities in BADC sites, made tabo or market days more frequent, and increased the number of auction markets. It also spurred infrastructure development in BADC areas, such as farm-to-market roads worth 7.75 million pesos and BADC building worth 1.5 million pesos.
By employing various community-based, innovative and participatory programs, Oriental Negros has shown that progress is possible when there is cooperation among all the stakeholders. Government officials from other provinces and other countries like Indonesia have been paying a visit to Oriental Negros to learn the programs, and to replicate these in their own communities. Amongst its most recent recognitions for innovation in provincial governance is the 2005 Award for Continuing Excellence (ACE), the top recognition conferred by the Gawad Galing Pook, to recognize the local government unit’s successful initiatives in addressing agricultural production, healthcare and coastal resource management concerns.