The Pope, farmers and fisherfolk
THE POPE’S message during his Papal visit might well be the ray of hope needed today by poor farmers and fisherfolk: “Allow yourselves to be surprised by God. Don’t be afraid of surprises. They shake the ground beneath our feet and make us insecure, but they move us forward to the right direction.”
The Papal visit motivated a prayer that started the meeting of 10 key AF2025 representatives held Jan. 17.
These representatives were elected or identified by 200 agriculture leaders from all agricultural subsectors when they met on Feb. 10 to 11, 2011.
The conference’s objectives were to formulate a vision for agriculture on 2025, as well as to recommend specific short and long term programs to achieve this vision. They are composed of four cabinet secretaries from three previous administrations, and six heads of major farmer, fisherfolk, and agribusiness organizations.
The starting prayer dwelt on God’s promises. These seemed to be at odds with the promises made at the February AF2025 conference, which was supplemented with more promises during the May 25 and Oct. 7 follow up AF2025 conferences during the same year.
At that point, the participants requested the Department of Agriculture (DA) to do the continuing follow up and necessary implementation. Unfortunately, results have been disappointing.
While Congress contributed its share by significantly increasing the DA budget, agriculture growth moved in the opposite direction.
The DA budgets of P61 billion, P71 billion and P80 billion resulted in declining agriculture growth rates of 2.7 percent, 1.1 percent, and 0.6 percent for 2012, 2013, and the first nine months of 2014, respectively. The official government agriculture growth target is 3.5-4.5 percent.
What has caused this debacle to happen? At the meeting, a leader said that most of the DA personnel were good. However, there were some key DA managers who had developed a defective “culture in agriculture.” Absent is the compassion Pope Francis emphasized.
Indications are the corruption that allows these managers to steal the money that should go to help poor farmers and fisherfolk.
Instead, these managers should listen to Pope Francis’ words; “Do you think of the poor? Do you feel with the poor? Do you do something for the poor? Do you ask the poor to give you the wisdom they have?”
President Aquino with his Tuwid na Daan and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala with his caring for small farmers and fisherfolk have shown the right path. But unscrupulous managers are sabotaging them, probably without their knowledge.
Lack of competence
The AF2025 has suggested measures to solve and, more importantly, prevent this problem. Most have been ignored and rejected by these officials. The AF2025 leaders added that it was not only corruption that prevented agricultural growth, but also a lack of competence. The dominance of pride and the scarcity of humility was obvious when government officials refused to listen to farmers and fisherfolk when they offered recommendations.
The AF2025 experience clearly demonstrates this. Suggestions for transparency (which decreases corruption and enhances competence) and credit access (which is a key to our agriculture growth) were ignored.
The DA should listen not only to the poor, but also to women. Pope Francis said: “Women are capable of seeing things from a different angle from us, a different eye. Women are able to pose questions that we men are not able to understand. ”
But according to Amparo Menciano of the Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan, with 460 organizations across 42 provinces, a DA promise was not fulfilled: Not a single meeting was called by the Interagency Committee on Rural Women in 2014. In addition, no specific accounting was ever made of the legislated 5 percent allocation for women in the DA budget.
The Jan. 17 meeting recorded several factors that has led to our agriculture demise. With only 18 months left before the next administration, and the possible misuse of the P85-billion DA budget “in aid of elections,” a leader skeptically said that it would be a big surprise if agriculture governance could still do a turnaround in 2015. However, the rest convinced him that the remaining 18 months and the DA large budget should be converted from a threat into an opportunity. The group identified priority measures that could help actualize P-Noy’s vision of inclusive growth.
With the Papal visit providing the much needed inspiration across all sectors, we believe a pleasant surprise can happen in 2015. However, it is necessary to go beyond DA and solicit the support from critical bodies like Congress, the Department of Budget and Management, and the financial managers in the Economic Cabinet Cluster. Even though these efforts may shake the ground beneath our feet and make us insecure, they may be the key to move us forward to the right direction of agriculture progress, which is at the very heart of inclusive growth.
(The author is chair of Agriwatch. For inquiries and suggestions, email [email protected] or telefax (02)8522112).
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