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COMMENTARY

SONA, agriculture and our future

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Quo vadis, Philippine agriculture? Quo vadis, Department of Agriculture?

The recent SONA [State of the Nation Adress] of President Aquino inspired many in the agricultural sector. His emphasis on fighting corruption has yielded significant results in the DA, reportedly riddled with corruption during the past administration.

Under the leadership of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, the fight against corruption in the DA has taken firm roots. But just as many praised the SONA for its determination to fight corruption, some expressed their desire for more details in the government’s vision and plans for the future.

The same is true for the DA. The fight against corruption is praised, but more specific and immediate action for agricultural development is desired.

AF 2025

On Feb. 12 to 13, recommendations to achieve this were formulated in a systematic and organized way. Secretary Alcala, Congressional Oversight Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization cochairs Sen.
Francis Pangilinan and Rep. Mark Mendoza and private sector leaders convened the Agricultural Fisheries 2025 (AF 2025) Conference. This is where the executive, the legislative and the private sector jointly drafted a vision and priority programs for agriculture up to 2025.
They were divided into five subsector groups, where private sector participants from the entire seed-to-shelf supply chain participated actively.

So far, the results from the AF 2025 recommendations have been mixed. The private sector coordinator for the livestock, poultry and feeds subsector is happy with the unprecedented immediate action he has seen from the DA.

The private sector coordinator for the commercial crops subsector, however, is having second thoughts about continuing. He laments the lack of action taken on his subsector’s key recommendations. He cites no movement on the comprehensive master plan development initiation, as well as the negative response to the recommendation of allocating a P200-million budget for the Philippine Coconut Authority. He argues that the poor coconut farmers, who constitute the largest subgroup of farmers, should get at least 1 percent of the more than P20-billion budget allocated for rice farmers. But this was reportedly denied.

On July 27, in a conference on sustainable development sponsored by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), it was reported that the DA had not gotten its budget for the organic-based agriculture supported by a recently passed law on this initiative. Neither has this law’s implementing rules and regulations been completed.

The DA anti-smuggling initiatives cited by former Agriculture Secretary Senen Bacani, who is the AF 2025 Cross-cutting Issues coordinator, have been lacking, such as the appointment of a DA focal person for this serious problem. Rodolfo Niones, Kasamne Onion Growers spokesperson, says that the recent onion smuggling could have been minimized had this been done.

Recommendation

The private sector should partly be blamed for not assertively alerting Secretary Alcala to these priorities. We recommend that the Tripartite AF 2025, composed of the executive, legislative and private sector, follow the organizational and implementation features of the recently organized National Competitiveness Council (NCC). This is co-chaired by private sector representative Bill Luz, who is building on the excellent work done by his predecessor, Cesar Bautista.

On July 6, agriculture finally became a priority sector for the NCC to address. AF 2025 private sector leaders will be key participants in this process. There are three main NCC features the AF 2025 should adopt.

1.) Regular meetings. The NCC subgroups meet once a month. Luz meets with the economic cluster department secretaries during their weekly Wednesday reviews. The NCC reports are subsequently presented to President Aquino. This way, monitoring and accountability is clearly established. AF 2025 should likewise conduct such regular meetings.

2.) Involvement of key officials. At the minimum level, undersecretaries and assistant secretaries from relevant government departments should participate in the NCC meetings. This way, recommendations are quickly decided and acted upon. In contrast, some AF 2025 meetings had only DA division chiefs attending, which discourage private sector involvement because of the resulting lack of immediate action.

3.) Two to three priorities. There are only two to three priorities identified during the NCC subgroup meetings. Action is expected within the month, in time for the scheduled NCC monthly monitoring meeting. In the meantime, several AF 2025 subsector priorities such as master plan initiation, anti-smuggling action and important budget allocations are not systematically reported on and therefore do not get done.

Conclusion

We fully support P-Noy’s SONA direction both in fighting corruption and promoting unified development. We recommend that the DA follow this SONA lead. Having done a praiseworthy job of curbing corruption, the DA must now put emphasis on setting up the organizational and implementation mechanisms to significantly improve our agricultural growth and equity for our immediate future.

(The author is chairman of Agriwatch and a former Cabinet member. For inquiries, e-mail agriwatch_phil@yahoo.com or telefax (02) 8522112.)


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