The Philippine delegation headed by Agriculture Undersecretary Mercedita A. Sombilla added its voice to the 43rd Session of the FAO Conference in Rome held on 1-7 July 2023.

The FAO Conference is the sovereign governing body of the Organization, where Members make crucial decisions and hold discussions on global issues surrounding food and agriculture in order for them to be reviewed and implemented through national action.

During the Ministerial Segment that addressed the State of Food and Agriculture, the topic of Integrated Water Resources Management was discussed at length. The Undersecretary highlighted the need for cooperation between and among member countries in order to implement effective measures that will improve water resources management and establish essential steps towards achieving sustainable and prosperous food and agriculture, as well as the 17 sustainable goals.

Undersecretary Sombilla emphasized during the conference the critical importance of implementing water-related measures efficiently and harmoniously at the national level. She highlighted the significant step taken by the Philippines through the creation of the Water Resources Management Office (WRMO) via Executive Order No. 22, signed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on April 27, 2023. The WRMO will act as a regulatory body to protect water resources, ensure their efficient use, and guarantee their availability for all economic sectors. This timely move by the government is crucial in securing the country’s water resources for future generations.

Sombilla further highlighted the proactive steps being undertaken by the country to ensure preparedness for the potential worsening impacts of El Nino. One of these strategies involves cloud seeding operations to improve water irrigation and other water-impounding facilities, rivers and creeks, and groundwater deposits, especially in production areas, critical watersheds, and reservoirs.

According to the Undersecretary, long-term mitigating measures are also in place to respond to water issues in the country. These solutions involve upgrading irrigation facilities and dams to optimize water delivery and minimize wastage, constructing flood control and sea wall structures in flood-prone areas, and establishing state-of-the-art water-impounding facilities in highland areas to capture rainfall. These measures are decisive responses to the intensifying impact of climate change.

“The Philippines is also now investing in climate-resilient water infrastructures such as solar-powered irrigation systems, promoting domestic water and recycling schemes at the household and community level to promote water conservation and advocating nature-based solutions like reforestation and expansion of mangrove areas, use of organic/bio-fertilizer as well as the adoption of water saving and climate resilient agriculture practices and technologies such as the adjustment of planting calendars, use of alternate wetting and drying, better crop nutrient management,” she added.

In the country statement, Sombilla underscored the importance of strengthening the capacity of nations through bilateral cooperation with member countries and tapping the expertise of the private sectors to achieve efficient and effective water resource management and infrastructure.

“By working together and supporting each other to achieve the needed integrated management and efficient use of our water resources, under the able guidance and leadership of the Food and Agriculture Organization, is a major step towards our achieving the shared objective of a resilient agrifood system,” the Undersecretary stated.

Joining Undersecretary Sombilla in to participate in the 43rd Session of the Conference in person were H.E. Nathaniel G. Imperial, Philippine Ambassador to Italy and Permanent Representative to Rome-based UN Agencies;  Dr. Josyline C. Javelosa,  Philippine Deputy Permanent Representative to Rome-based UN Food Agencies and Agriculture Attaché to Italy; Ms. Wennie Berganio, Alternate Permanent Representative and Attaché; Mr. Dean Marc A. Bolima, International Organizations Desk Officer to Rome-based UN Food Agencies and Desk Officer covering Italy; and, Ms Jacqueline D. Nicolas, Agriculture Assistant.

Nearing the end of her intervention, Agriculture Undersecretary Sombilla reiterated the Philippines’ unwavering support in the implementation of measures that will improve water resource management to achieve a prosperous food and agriculture and the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. She called on all fellow member countries to do the same. “The time is ticking. We should act now and fast, ’ were her closing remarks.

On the margins of the Conference, the Philippines had bilateral meetings with Canada and the United States of America.

The Undersecretary also participated in a women leaders roundtable upon the invitation of Canada’s Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Chair of the 43rd Session of the FAO Conference, the Honorable Marie-Claude Bibeau. ### (DA Rome/DA-IAD)