Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Significance of the Rural-Urban Fringe in the Philippines

The rural-urban fringe is that area which extends outward from the newest residential areas into a landscape which is still essentially rural but slowly becoming aligned with urban aspiration. Inasmuch as it is a zone of transition, it is likewise  a zone of conflict. For instance, conflict in land-use can be very well observed as agricultural, residential, and commercial uses compete for land in these areas (Godall, 1972). Other land-uses that may tighten the competition for land at the fringe of metropolitan growth are tourism, recreation, and conservation. Other forms of conflict may be observed in terms of varying lifestyles, livelihood, landscape and services. These conflicts often result in the distortion of the established rural lifestyle and economy by the strong and outward spreading urbanisation. Residential and commercial uses of land usually tend to be more viable and thus these uses are more capable of dictating higher land values.

In the Philippines, specifically those areas immediately surrounding Metro Manila, the above cited conflicts can be observed to be  very intense. As mentioned  earlier on,  rapid urbanisation is occurring at the expense of prime agricultural lands in the provinces of Bulacan, Cavite, Batangas and Laguna, and likewise at the expense of environmentally-sensitive areas like the mountain ranges of Rizal. According to Concepcion (1992) agriculture in the Philippines has been edged out to marginal lands as a result of urban encroachments. As prime lands are converted to urban uses, farmers moved to the uplands and indulged in slash and burn farming (known as kaingin system). This farming practice, in turn, has resulted in the rapid depletion of forest covers.

Economic Significance

The deep importance of managing the rural-urban fringe must be realised alongside the emergence of environmental ethics. The maintenance of farmlands should be thought of as much more than just saving a piece of land. The objectives of saving farmlands and ecologically-fragile lands encompass the preservation of the quality of  the place, maintaining rural lifestyle, keeping the lid on cost of public services, and so much more. The significance of preserving farms and forests beyond the consideration of farm families are discussed below.

Energy Conservation. Farming prime lands require less energy compared to others because of the natural qualities of the soil. Naturally-rich soil requires less management as it likewise require less farm inputs, i.e. fertilisers. Lands of good quality soil also tend to have greater tolerance for a wide variety of crops. Moreover, the maintenance of prime lands near market centres reduces transport costs.

Control of Public Costs. Farms require lower facility outlays than urban areas. For instance,  those  fringe areas which have now become highly urbanised have been  neglected by the water resources agencies in the Philippines due to the rapid rise in demand for water supply both for household and industrial  uses. (Ad Hoc Inter-Agency Committee on Water Supply, Sewerage and Sanitation Sector Study, 1986). As urban centres expand, the per unit cost of building infrastructure i.e.  water supply, transport, sewerages  likewise expands due to the economics of distance.

Preservation of Economic Base. Farms are the main source of the country’s food supply. Moreover, exportable farm products are dollar earners and therefore support the balance of payments  (BoP). More than 20 percent of the country’s total export earnings come from agricultural and forest products exports.

Moreover, the agricultural sector supports a variety of businesses such as food manufacturing and other retail enterprises by being the source of raw materials. The CALABARZON area produces a wide variety of food products such as coffee beans, coconuts,  and fruits such as rambutan and lanzones. All of these products are processed into sweets and preserves and are exported to other countries including  the United States and Australia.

Likewise, the agricultural sector  creates demand for other businesses such as farm implement dealers, feed stores, and others. The sector also provides various employment opportunities. The sector, at the macroeconomic level, could contribute a significant part in the economy’s total output by up to one-fourth of the real Gross Domestic Product or GDP.

Promotion of Local Self-Sufficiency. Agriculture relies on local resources such as land and local labor, thus it can propagate itself through time in the absence of deliberate interventions. This will relieve the pressure on government resources which are most often very scarce and limited. The government can therefore reallocate resources to provide for other community needs i.e. educational facilities.

Self-sufficiency can also be brought about by developing tourism and recreational facilities that sit well with agriculture and the natural environment. Local income can be boosted by such activities as demands for food and accommodation services rise.

Social Significance

Maintenance of Open Spaces. The open space qualities of farmlands and natural resource areas can provide amenity. That means, people can derive pleasure and  enjoyment from using such open spaces for activities such as sight-seeing,  picnics, bushwalking and many others. Even just the freshness of the air itself can already provide amenity.

Preservation of Local Lifestyle. An enduring rural land resource base  will enable communities to maintain their dominant, rural way of life. Moreover, availability of moderately-priced housing will be maintained.

Promotion of Local Identity. Many rural communities are known  for producing its specialty crops. These production uniqueness enhances local identity and sense of place. Other than the economic value of these specialty crops, ecologically and culturally sound tourism can also be enhanced. Examples of these would be the buko (young coconuts) juice and pie of Los Banos and Calamba, Laguna, and kapeng barako (coffee) of Batangas.

Environmental Significance

Retention of Natural Systems and Processes. In preserving farmlands, the natural balance of the ecosystem can also be maintained. Appropriately managed farmlands can serve as natural buffers protecting river systems and sensitive forest covers from urban activities. Moreover, farming practices like crop rotation can help replenish and maintain soil nutrients. Relatedly, the preservation of forest covers would secure biologically diverse plant and animal life, as well as the hydrological regimes of various watersheds.

Table 4 is a World Bank (WB) summary of general health and productivity consequences of environmental mismanagement, which, can likewise be observed in the Philippine setting.

Prevention of Groundwater Depletion. Farmlands utilise surface water for irrigation as opposed to urban activities using groundwater for water supply. The private sector supplements public water supply through extraction from underneath. The Ad Hoc Inter-Agency Committee on Water Supply, Sewerage and Sanitation or IACWSSS Sector Study (1986) estimated the average private extraction in Metro Manila at 269 million liters  a day and 98 million cubic meters each year. These rates are alarming because in 1981, the groundwater level was already about 200 meters below sea level and with such an extraction rate, the decline is moving at a rate of 4 to 10 meters every year. Many wells have run dry and salinity is seeping to the fresh water tables. 

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