Gov’t urged to take into account incomes of farmers, fishers
For inclusive growth to make sense, one needs to take into account the incomes of farmer and fisherfolk, apart from production (or “gross value added”), which is the basis of traditional measurement.
We cannot improve what we do not measure. Therefore, we must measure a farmer’s current income, its sources and bottlenecks. Only then can we identify the most strategic and effective actions to take.
During the Arangkada Forum in 2012, when an Alyansa Agrikultura leader asked President Aquino what he would do differently from his predecessors in the area of agriculture, the President said he would emphasize the increase of farmers’ income.
Unfortunately, during a March 8 presentation, the Department of Agriculture (DA) identified only three sector outcomes: Increased productivity in Agriculture and Fishery; increased forward linkages to the industry and services sector; and increased sector resilience to climate change.
The increase of farmers’ income was not mentioned, but only implied.
What then is the new approach we are recommending? The DA should depart from a primarily commodity approach to a farmer-income emphasis with an inclusive growth goal.
For example, instead of just focusing on rice production to achieve self-sufficiency, the DA’s rice program should also look at a rice farmer’s income.
If a farmer relied on rice alone, he would never get out of poverty. According to PhilRice Executive Director Eufemio Erasco (044-4560111), a rice farmer’s average income ranges from P25,000 to P30,000 per planting season, or P50,000 to P60,000 a year.
This is below the P80,000 annual rural poverty threshold.
We commend Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and PhilRice’s Erasco for focusing on the rice farmer, not just the product.
Their Palayamanan program advocates low investment, high-yielding activities, such as growing mushrooms through the use of rice straw waste. From this activity can come a vermiculture opportunity.
Erasco says that the two activities may yield an additional annual income of P200,000. Between the planting seasons are 125 days of idle time. This can be used to plant crops like mungbeans, which will give an additional P25,000.
Not only will there be an additional annual income of P225,000 a year, underemployed labor may also be tapped. Organic, rather than chemical, fertilizer can be applied. Most importantly, the rice farmer can finally break out of the poverty trap.
Another example is the commodity-oriented Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).
The PCA should expand its mandate of increasing coconut production to include the improvement of coconut farmers’ income.
The annual P20,000 yield for a coconut hectare can be significantly improved through inter-cropping. Rolando Dy (02-6342819) states that intercropping cacao or coffee can yield a net annual income of P97,000 or P100,000, respectively.
PCA’s John Domagtoy (09054177013) says that the P50,000 investment from beekeeping can yield an annual income of P24,000 in the first year, P42,000 in the second year, and P60,000 in the third year, and onwards. This is because a coconut yield increases by 30 percent due to bee cross-pollination.
The emphasis of improving income should also be done on a household backyard basis. Agriculture Undersecretary Dante de Lima and National Soybean Production Coordinator Rosemarie Aquino (0915-4622438) have shown that a kilo of soybeans worth P50 can yield 25 kilos in three months.
When processed, this yields 200 liters of soy milk at P46 a liter and 12.5 kilos of soy vegimeat at P140 a kilo. Thus, this P50 investment may yield a return of P10,950. All this may be done in a farmer’s backyard!
Just as we should add inclusive growth to the economic production paradigm, we should also focus on increasing the income of farmers. Using commodity road maps to achieve inclusive growth are severely limited because they do not take into account potential increased incomes through added farmer activities.
The multicrop and multiactivity farm approach should supplement the commodity approach if we are to raise farm incomes. Therefore, we should stop measuring agriculture purely on commodity production and add the critical aspect of understanding and measuring farmer incomes.
Then we can solve difficulties and unleash opportunities so that farmers’ incomes are raised beyond the poverty level and inclusive growth may be finally attained.
(The author is chair of Agriwatch, former secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former undersecretary for Agriculture, Trade and Industry. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or telefax (02) 8522112.)
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