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Gov’t offering land to agri grads

By: - Reporter / @kocampoINQ
/ 05:34 AM December 03, 2020

The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) will give land to fresh graduates of agricultural courses for free next year, one of the latest strategies of the government to encourage young people to venture into agriculture.

Agrarian Reform Secretary John Castriciones said the program, dubbed “DAR-to-Door,” aimed to improve the country’s food security by allowing those who have the skills to develop the country’s idle lands.

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This is also in line with President Duterte’s directive to fast-track farmland acquisition and distribution before his term ends in 2022.

Undersecretary Luis Meinrado Pangulayan of the Legal Affairs Office said in a phone interview that the DAR was working on the final draft of the program and hoping to release the administrative order this month.

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As many as 200,000 hectares of unused government-owned land would be distributed for free, mostly in the province of Palawan, as well as in areas in Calabarzon and Mimaropa regions.

At most 3 hectares

New graduates of agricultural courses may be awarded at most 3 ha of land so long as they meet the qualifications and secure the requirements.

Eligible are students who graduated with a degree in agriculture from a school recognized by the Commission on Higher Education. They must also be landless, and their parents must not be applicants or beneficiaries of other agrarian reform programs. They must also be residents of the municipality where the land is located.

Pangulayan said the DAR would give priority to graduates who come from poor families.

Interested graduates may seek the help of their schools, where the vetting process would begin. Their applications would be passed on to the DAR for review by its regional offices and later to agriculture program officers in their municipalities.

10-20 applications yearly

Pangulayan said the agrarian reform chief might approve 10 to 20 applications yearly, depending on the availability of land and the number of applicants.

“What’s important is that there must be a willingness on the part of these students. They must also have the aptitude and the ability to cultivate the land. This would all be part of the vetting process,” he said.

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Awardees will be subjected to the same terms as agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs), meaning farmlands must be used exclusively for agricultural purposes and may be sold after 10 years.

They will also be entitled to other support services extended by the DAR and the Department of Agriculture (DA), including the provision of loans, training, farm machinery and implements.

Wary about schemes

Industry leaders interviewed by the Inquirer welcomed the program, but some expressed concern about possible schemes that the program might bring, including the sale of land to private entities for industrial and commercial purposes.

According to Pangulayan, the program beneficiaries have the right to decide on whether they would sell their land after 10 years. He, however, stressed that the DAR decided to distribute land to agricultural graduates because “they see the value of investing in agriculture.”

He clarified that land under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program would not be included in the DAR-to-Door project. As such, ARBs must not worry that their land would be designated to someone else.

The DAR said it was hoping that the program would see an influx of young farmers knowledgeable in science-based and modern ways of farming. Most Filipino farmers are already in their sunset years, their age averaging 57 years.

Shortage of farmers

The DA has projected that the country may face a shortage of farmers if the agricultural workforce would not be replenished. It earlier reported that the number of students in agricultural courses was declining yearly by 1.5 percent.

“This is our response to this critical issue … These lands would serve as these students’ ‘farm laboratories’ on which they could apply the theories and best practices they learned from school,” Castriciones said.

“This incentive will also serve as an impetus for the attainment of the country’s food security,” he said.

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