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Gov’t reviewing big land-lease deals

/ 01:49 AM September 27, 2011

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala. Inquirer file photo

Lease contracts covering millions of hectares of agricultural lands signed by the Department of Agriculture with foreign entities during the Arroyo administration are currently being reviewed to determine if they are in accord with the current administration’s food security plan.

This was announced on Monday by Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, who expressed reservations about the past administration’s having allowed foreign countries and companies to lease Philippine lands for the production of their staples and industrial crops.

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“We are currently checking the contracts to see if they match our thinking,” said Alcala in a press briefing. He said the contracts included investments from companies in China, South Korea and the Middle East.

Alcala expressed concern the agreements signed by his predecessor, Arthur Yap, might negatively impact the country’s food sufficiency program.

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The Philippines aims to be self-sufficient in rice by 2013.

Alcala said the country could not afford to let foreign companies lease huge tracts of land, to the detriment of local farmers.

“Where are you going to get 500 hectares, 1,000 hectares of land that don’t have  farmers living on them?” Alcala said.

“They will just break us up. We are not selling our country, we are selling commodities,” he added.

Alcala said the DA was validating the exact number of hectares leased away under the various deals signed by Yap, who is now a representative from Bohol. Based on previous newspaper reports, the DA had leased “millions” of hectares to foreign entities.

Last week, Alcala said, he met with former Agriculture Minister Sun Zhengcai of China to discuss possible investment areas and technical cooperation in the country.

He also updated Sun, who now serves as party secretary of Jilin province, an agro-mineral region, about the contract between the Philippines and the province involving the lease of one million hectares for grains and biofuel crops.

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The 2007 Memorandum of Understanding forged among several Philippine government agencies, including the DA,  with Jilin province, China Development Bank and Jilin Fuhua Agricultural Science and Technology Development Co. Ltd.   was suspended when a nongovernment organization questioned its legality before the Supreme Court.

Aside from China, the Philippines also entered into a lease agreement with Bahrain in 2008 for vast plots of land to grow Basmati rice for Bahrain’s consumption.

The agriculture secretary also discouraged local firms from leasing vast croplands, saying this did not improve the income of local farmers.

San Miguel Corp., the country’s largest food and beverage company, has asked the DA for land it could lease for rice and corn production.

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TAGS: DA, Department of Agriculture, Food security, Government
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