Negros Occidental is a perennial rice importer. As a consequence of a mono-crop economy, any setback affecting the sugar industry made the poor and marginalized sectors highly vulnerable. Aggravating the situation was the inadequacy of irrigation systems in the entire province. Barely 30% of the total irrigation potential was realized. Even if there was ample money to buy staple commodities, these were not available locally. In fact, when the country was ravaged by a severe shortage of rice in 1995, Negros Occidental was hardest hit among the seven provinces of Western Visayas. Unless the province produced its own food, massive starvation was imminent. In fact, a high malnutrition rate among children was recorded with a ration of one underweight for every eight pre-schoolers in 1995. Low productivity and the absence of alternative livelihood likewise made the problem worse.
The goal of preparing a comprehensive plan to cope with the situation became the impetus for a food sufficiency program known as Pagkaon 2000. The local government unit conducted farmer dialogues, barangay assemblies, district consultations, and technical conferences with national and local agencies. The first step was to streamline and reorganize the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist to implement effectively a massive and integrated campaign plan to achieve and sustain the goals of the program. This led to the establishment of an Agricultural Engineering and Irrigation Systems Development Division to supervise the major thrust of strengthening irrigation development. A Motorcycle Loan program was likewise instituted to expand the coverage and mobility of agriculturists. It now has a core of 126 practitioners on field.
At present, Pagkaon 2000 has completed 30 projects expanding the total irrigated area from 31,729 hectares in 1995 to 39,286 hectares in 1999. Effective irrigated area increased from 79, 322 hectares to 110,000 hectares while rice production grew from 222,000 metric tons in 1995 to 344,444 metric tons in 1999. To sustain the professional and technical human resources for the agriculture and fishery sector, 80 full-time scholars in state colleges and universities are sponsored nationwide. After five years of program implementation, malnutrition cases from 1995 to 1999 decreased significantly from 14% to 9%. An Agriculture and Fishery committee in the Provincial Development Council was likewise institionalized to provide automatic allocation of agricultural funds from the 20% IRA and to strengthen LGU, private, and NGO cooperation.