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Infrastructure and agriculture

Infrastructure greatly affects agriculture.

Per Pinstrup-Andersen and Satoru Shimokawa in “Rural Infrastructure in Rural Development” say: “Agriculture productivity increase depends on good rural infrastructure. While the state of rural infrastructure varies widely among developing countries, most lower-income developing countries suffer severe rural infrastructure deficiencies.”

Gilberto Llanto in “Productivity growth in Philippine Agriculture” states: “The literature indicates the significance of rural infrastructure in improving agriculture productivity in developing countries … Accordingly, the absence or inadequacy of rural infrastructure in the Philippines has been cited as a major reason for its slow agricultural productivity.”

Sununtar Setboonsarng in “The Impact of Rural Infrastructure in Agriculture Support Services on Poverty” states: “Among the project interventions [in Philippine rural areas], farm-to-market-roads appeared to have the most significant impact on the communities.”

Last Sept. 26, the House of Representatives passed the 2018 national budget of P3.8 trillion, a 12.4-percent increase from 2017. The Department of Public Works and Highways got a 37.5-percent increase to P643.3 billion, while the Department of Agriculture got an 8.2 percent addition to P54.2 billion.

Rural infrastructure is critical to agriculture development. This, in turn, is key to reducing our 36 percent rural poverty level (i.e., more than double the 17 percent level of Vietnam and much higher than the 14 percent of Indonesia and Thailand). Because of this, the Senate and the Budget Bicameral Conference Committee should ensure that the DPWH budget supports rural infrastructure, and not neglect it as in the past.

Rural Infrastructure

Irrigation is classified as infrastructure. Though the irrigation budget has been appropriately increased for 2018, it should be allocated efficiently. It has been proven that small irrigation, as compared to large irrigation, often has a higher Return on Investment (ROI), faster turn-around time, and lower cost per beneficiary. Unfortunately, large irrigation gets more than P40 billion, while small irrigation gets less than P4 million.

Since the budgets for these two types of irrigation report to different Secretaries, the Senate and Bicameral Conference Committee must look at a wholistic irrigation plan that will serve agriculture development, and not suffer from possible turf differences.

Farm-to-Market-Roads (FMR), sometimes referred to as Farm-to-Me-Roads because of their allocation based on political considerations, should similarly be addressed in a strategic and systematic manner. Their allocation should follow a rational roadmap that will bring farmer produce to the market in the most efficient way.

Safety

As the Build-Build-Build program gains momentum, it should not turn into a Die-Die-Die fiasco. With the demand getting much larger because of the increased DPWH budget, unscrupulous individuals will take advantage at the risk of consumer safety and lives.

The largest consumer sector comes from the farmers and fisherfolk. They should be protected from unsafe products, which may include steel and cement. For example, in the case of steel, the many structures that crumbled during calamities like Supertyphoon “Yolanda” were traces to substandard steel.

Today, there is a proposal to rely on pre-shipment inspection abroad as the primary indicator for the safety of imported steel and cement. But for 7 out of 8 countries studied, while pre-shipment may be desirable but optional, post-shipment inspection in the home country is absolutely required for safety reasons.

In the Philippines, the proposed post-inspection allows the imported goods to be released even without the safety test results completed. This poses grave danger.

For infrastructure to benefit agriculture, it must therefore be adequately provided, strategically located, and safely delivered.

The author is Agriwatch Chair.

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