Urban Growth, Agriculture, and Farmers’ Adjustment: Experience from the Province of Iloilo, the Philippines [1]

Thanapan Laiprakobsup, Ph.D.[2]


My master students and I went to the province of Iloilo from May 24 to 27 2018 in order to conduct research on agricultural extension, the government’s agricultural assistance programs, and farmers’ adjustment amidst a changing society. We interviewed government officials at the regional, provincial, and local levels. We also conducted focus group discussions with farmers and talked to people who have been involved with these topics for several years. We observed Iloilo while we travelled, and we saw the city and people changing.

Getting to Know Iloilo: General Information

The Province of Iloilo is located in the region of Western Visayas. It comprises the southeastern part of the Panay Island. The total area is approximately 5,000 square kilometers (Province of Iloilo, 2018). It is composed of 42 municipalities and 2 cities. The capital city of the province is Iloilo city, which is one of the major urban areas in the Philippines (Province of Iloilo, 2018). Approximately 1.9 million people are living there. Due to its geographical location, its nickname is “The Heart of the Philippines.” More importantly, Iloilo’s location made the province (especially the city area) emerge as one of the major sea ports and trading posts during the Spanish and American colonization. Regarding its cultural heritage and tradition, Iloilo has its own indigenous culture and dialect (i.e., Hiligaynon), which are different from the central Filipino culture. The Iloilo people are called “Ilonggos” (Province of Iloilo, 2018). In addition, the influence of the Spanish culture can be seen in the province in terms of historical Catholic churches in urban and municipal areas.

Iloilo has been in transition for decades, and its economy has gradually expanded for decades, especially the expansion of urban and residential areas. The employment rate is more than 90 percent of the total labor force (Province of Iloilo, 2016). Highways and roads have been constructed and expanded and several newly-constructed commercial areas and department stores can be seen along the highways. The economic growth of Iloilo is in accordance with the country’s economic growth. Two factors play a role in the economic growth of Iloilo. First, Iloilo is the regional center of ABS-CBN channel, which broadcasts nationwide. Second, politics also plays a role in Iloilo’s economic growth. Political power has been centralized by a particular family whose members have won national and local posts (i.e., representatives and mayors), and they have been able to allocate the government’s budget and projects and private investment to the province.[3]

Picture 1: Map of Iloilo Province Source: Map of World (2018)


In 2017, the industrial sector comprised more than 50 percent of Iloilo’s gross domestic product (GDP) while the service sector was approximately 32 percent of the GDP (Department of Agriculture, 2018). On the other hand, the agricultural GDP was only 18 percent of Iloilo’s total economy (Department of Agriculture, 2018). The majority of Iloilo’s labor force is in the service sector, followed by the agriculture and industry sectors (see table 1). The change in the labor force structure illustrates that Iloilo’s economy is in transition.


Table 1: Share of Total Labor Force by Sector

(Unit: Thousands)

Source: Province of Iloilo (2015)


Life in the City: Iloilo City and the People

Iloilo city is like any other city in the developing world. It is crowded with people coming to work, eating, and shopping. It consists of old and new business districts, and the government offices (including the province of Iloilo), universities, sea port, and central wet market are located in the old district. Similar to other cities in Southeast Asia, we saw a rich neighborhood located in the inner city while shanty towns are located near the sea port and industrial districts. We saw Chinese and Spanish cultural influence in the old district since China Town and Catholic churches are located in the area.[4] Jeepney[5] is the main public transportation in town.

On the other hand, the new area consists of new business districts (i.e., Iloilo Business Park), a convention center, and an international airport. There are new factories, shopping malls, supermarkets, department stores, and community malls in every corner. The shopping malls are crowded with people, and people like to go out at night for dining at the newly-constructed community malls. The expansion of the shopping malls has contributed to land price increases, and thus farmers have an incentive to sell their land to private investors.

Picture 2: (Left) Central Market, Iloilo City (Right) Ware House, Sea Port Area, Iloilo City Source: Thanapan Laiprakobsup (2018)

Picture 3: (Left) Colonial House Influenced by Spanish Architecture, Maria Clara Baranggay, Iloilo City (Right) Plaza Jaro, Fajardo Baranggay, Iloilo City Source: Thanapan Laiprakobsup (2018)
Picture 4: (Left) Iloilo Business Park (Right) Iloilo Provincial Caitol Source: (Left) Adrenaline Romance (2017) (Right) Kan Sangtong (2018)
Picture 5: (Left) City Hall, Iloilo City (Right) Bureau of Customs, Iloilo City Source: Kan Sangtong (2018)


Farmers, Local Government, Foreign Agencies, and Collaborative Effort to Adjustment of Rural Farmers

We visited the municipality of Cabatuan and interviewed the mayor, agricultural officials, and farmers in the area. According to the interviews, the mayor and agricultural officials were concerned about the effect of the city and industrial growth in two ways. First, urban growth can lead to a decrease of agricultural land. One municipality agricultural official expressed his worry: “the conversion of paddy rice field to industrial park made us worry about food sufficiency. Rice supply will be shortage since land would become industrial park.”[6] Second, expansion of urban areas and industrial parks will environmentally affect agriculture if the government does not strictly enforce environmental regulations, and soil and water will be degraded due to industrial waste and pollution.

Picture 6: (Upper Left) Farmers Using Machine for Prawning Farm Land (Upper Right) Farmers Using Buffalo for Prawning Farm Land (Below) Farmers Milling Paddy Rice Source: (Upper Left and Right) Kan Sangtong, 2018 (Below) Thanapan Laiprakobsup, 2018

Amidst of the urban and industrial growth, provincial and municipality governments and foreign agencies have tried to help farmers through policy adjustment and research. The provincial government has increasingly encouraged farmers to grow organic rice in order to increase product value. Meanwhile, the municipality government has implemented a “local organic farming market” every week in order to help farmers sell their organic products.[7] Foreign agencies have played a role in improving the farmers’ production technology. During our visit to the rainfed area of Cabatuan municipality, we found that the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) had conducted research on new rice varieties that were more endurable to pests and climate change. Another case of the foreign agency’s role in the farmers’ improvement is processing technology. The Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) helped the Philippine government and farmers’ cooperatives establish a farmer’s cooperative rice processing complex in Pototan municipality. According to the chief executive officer, the processing complex has become the biggest rice processing complex in the region.[8]

Picture 7: (Left) Organic Black Rice (Right) Rice Research in Cabatuan Municipality by IRRI Source: Kan Sangtong (2018)


Policy Recommendations

For government agencies

  • Collaboration of government agencies at every level
  • Supports from central government such as investment in irrigation or roads
  • Supports from regional government such as practical training program or production technology
  • Local market for organic farming products
  • Participation from local farmers
  • Encouragement of collaboration between government agencies, private enterprises, foreign agencies, and farmers in terms of policy dialogue

For private enterprises

  • Investment in organic farming products
  • Knowledge transfer to farmers
  • Encouragement of market for organic farming products in supermarkets or department stores


[1] This article is a part of the research project entitled “The Effect of City on Farmers and Farmers’ Adjustment for a Livable Smart Community” under the project “ASEAN Cities in Transition: Toward Livable Smart Communities.” It is funded by the ASEAN Cluster and the Ratchadapisek Sompoch Endowment Fund (2017), Chulalongkorn University. None of the opinions represent the opinions of Chulalongkorn University, the ASEAN Cluster, or the interviewees. All errors belong to the author.

[2] Assistant Professor of Political Science, Department of Government, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

[3] Interview with a municipality official on May 25th, 2018 Iloilo, the Philippines

[4] China Town in Iloilo city is the second oldest China Town in the Philippines.

[5] Jeepney is a car brand “Jeep” which is modified in order to carry several people at one time. It is the most popular public transportation in several cities in the Philippines.

[6] Interview with a municipality official on May 26th, 2018 Iloilo, the Philippines

[7] Interview with the mayor of Cabatuan municipality on May 24th, 2018 Iloilo, the Philippines

[8] Interview with CEO of the Pototan Rice Processing Complex on May 25th, 2018 the Philippines



Map of World. (2018). “Iloilo Map”,

https://www.google.com/search?q=map+of+world+iloilo&safe=active&tbm=isch&source=iu&ictx=1&fir=gWUbzADoFX_PM%253A%252Cq4xUWAf7os1b4M%252C_&usg=__9Za8ESz_Magb50MYLMLe7qfv9hA%3D&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiq7NHpltjbAhWTXn0KHazhBiAQ9QEIKDAA#imgrc=-gWUbzADoFX_PM:, Accessed on June 13th, 2018.

Province of Iloilo. (2015). Annual provincial profile. Iloilo, the Philippines: Provincial Planning and Development Office, the Province of Iloilo.

Province of Iloilo. (2016). Annual provincial profile. Iloilo, the Philippines: Provincial Planning and Development Office, the Province of Iloilo.

Province of Iloilo. (2018). “About Iloilo”, http://iloilo.gov.ph/about-iloilo, Accessed on June 18th, 2018.

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