Agriculture Secretary Alcala: Farmers’ asset?By Ernesto M. Ordoñez
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Is the Agriculture Secretary an asset to farmers? It depends on the Secretary. Sometimes, he is a liability.
In the case of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, he has turned out to be an asset. Farmers must take advantage of this. Otherwise, they will lose a valuable opportunity to improve their incomes and contribute meaningfully to food security and agricultural development.
Alcala is committed to helping small farmers and fisherfolk. Proof of this is the groundbreaking initiatives he has embarked on.
Alcala knows credit is still the small farmer’s biggest problem. Having no access to credit, the farmer is forced to resort to usurers who use the 5-6 scheme for loan rates. For a three-month term, this means an annualized 80 percent interest rate; for one month, this is 240 percent!
Opposing strong forces advocating purely market-based mechanisms, and losing powerful allies in the process, Alcala instituted a loan program with lower-than-market interest rates. This also includes insurance coverage. There are many instances when Alcala has favored the small farmers over other forces, at a high cost to his own personal welfare.
Alcala is humble. He credits others instead of himself, even in those instances when he deserves the most credit. He admits his mistakes. When the idea of Agriculture Fisheries 2025 (a public-private effort to have a vision for 2025 and the accompanying policies and programs) was proposed by Sen. Francis Pangilinan, Alcala ordered the DA bureaucracy to give this full support.
As a result, AF 2025 has made significant achievements. This would not have happened without Alcala’s backing.
There is, however, a paradox. Philippine agriculture is in crisis. Rice production is hampered by inefficient, and in many cases corrupt, irrigation construction and maintenance.
The coconut industry is in trouble, with one-third of coconut land without any fertilization, and one-sixth with senile trees. Smuggling in pork and poultry importation is rampant.
DA statistics show that 20 percent of backyard swine raisers have lost their jobs in the last two years. Fisheries production is declining, impoverishing further the lowest-income sector in the country.
If Alcala is an asset, why is this happening? The fault, dear reader, is in the bureaucracy.
Most of those in the DA bureaucracy are talented, compassionate and good. But there are a few but powerful DA officials who are sabotaging Alcala’s initiatives.
The farmers must now tell Alcala who these officials are and provide the needed information so they can be removed, or at least reassigned. They are responsible for most DA shortcomings.
Recently, Alcala removed two powerful bureau directors, which would not have occurred without the farmers’ participation. This must continue.
I have worked in two government agencies and the Office of the President for 16 years as Undersecretary or Secretary.
I know reforming the bureaucracy cannot be done overnight. But it can be done faster with private sector involvement.
Farmers must now participate in agricultural governance by directly reporting misdeeds to Alcala. They can significantly help Alcala solve the major problem of bureaucracy.
Alcala will then not only be an asset to farmers; farmers will also be an asset to Alcala.
(The author is chairman of Agriwatch. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail email@example.com.)
Short URL: http://business.inquirer.net/?p=71923