The poor and the new President
Where are the poor and what will the new President do with them? Agriculture has a great impact on the poor. But in the past two months, the presidential candidates have hardly articulated a clear agriculture agenda. Fortunately, there have been some changes in the last 10 days or so.
We must first understand the situation today so we can decide which candidate to vote for on May 9.
Poverty and elections
Rural Urban Total
Population 56.2 million 45.8 million 102 million
Percentage (%) 55% 45% 10%
Voters 29.9 million 24.5 million 54.4 million
Poverty Incidence 40% 13% 26%
Referring to the Philippines, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) stated: “Poverty is more severe and most widespread in rural areas. Almost 80 percent of the country’s poor people live there. Agriculture is the primary and, often, the only source of income of poor rural people, most of whom depend on subsistence farming and fishing for their livelihood”.
Our rural poverty is 2 to 10 times worse than our Asean peers. While our rural poverty is 40 percent, it is only 19 percent for Vietnam, 14 percent for Indonesia and Thailand, and 2 percent for Malaysia.
President Aquino said we lacked inclusive growth. From 2011 to 2015, urban-based industry grew by 6.4 percent. Agriculture grew by only 1.5 percent, not even half of the government’s official 4-percent target. While national poverty incidence is 26 percent, the 40 percent rural poverty level is more than three times our 13-percent urban poverty.
Our next President can address our rural poverty problem only if he or she gives the proper attention to the neglected agriculture sector. Will this happen?
Out of our 54.4 million registered voters, the 29.9 million rural voters who constitute 55 percent of the voting population should now consider voting for a President who will make agriculture a top priority.
What specific points should we look out for? To go beyond motherhood statements, five agri-related coalitions representing different sets of stakeholders came together in December 2015 to form the Agri-Fisheries Alliance. Below are the six action areas these coalitions agreed on, which the current administration fell short of.
There should be more credit and insurance for small farmers and fisherfolk. Land Bank should be restructured so it will veer away from its 2014 record of giving only 9 percent of its P386-billion loanable fund to small farmers and fisherfolk. Philippine Crop Insurance Corp. should expand its coverage to at least 10 times the P1.1 billion it released in 2015, especially in light of climate change.
The Department of Agriculture should directly guide the 17,000 agriculture extension workers devolved to the Local Government Units. This is to nesure that they will not be distracted from their main agriculture mandate by local political concerns.
For the global trade regime, we should be assured of a level playing field by getting subsidies equivalent to those of our neighbors. We should combat the more than 30 percent smuggling rate with a high level public-private sector body.
For agricultural reform, we should implement the mandated fisherfolk settlement program, provide support services for agrarian reform, and ensure that the coco levy funds and assets benefit the coconut farmers.
For the strategic direction that is woefully lacking, sectoral roadmaps should be completed within the first six months of the new administration.
For the faulty implementation that is a common cause of failure, a globally recognized management system (such as ISO 9000) should be instituted at the DA. Stakeholder involvement as mandated by law should be harnessed, especially in monitoring the DA’s use of its P80-billion budget. The President should appoint an agriculture secretary with a management track record, not a politician with inadequate management expertise.
Though the five coalitions separately submitted their recommendations to the candidates, there is a consensus on the necessity to address the six action areas identified above. Ignoring these will result in continuing rural poverty.
The Agri-Fisheries Alliance is composed of the following:
Alyansa Agrikultura, representing farmers and fisherfolk, has 42 federations and organizations covering all major agricultural sectors. It is represented by United Broiler Raisers Association (UBRA) president Elias Jose Inciong.
Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc., representing agribusiness, has value-chain experts for 32 agriculture commodity groups. It is represented by Escano Teves Development Corp. president Alex Escano.
Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines, representing academe and science, has professors and scientists from universities and research institutes throughout the Philippines. It is represented by former University of the Philippines president Emil Javier.
Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan, representing rural women, has gender empowerment chapters in 42 provinces. It is represented by Katipunan ng mga Bagong Pilipina president Trinidad Domingo.
Agriculture Fisheries 2025 has agriculture champions who were organized to craft a 2025 vision with short and long term plans. It is represented by Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s agriculture committee chair Roberto Amores.
It is now up to the 30 million rural voters to listen to the presidential candidates and vote for the one who will best address their sad plight.
(The author is chair of Agriwatch, former Secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former Undersecretary for Agriculture, Trade and Industry.)
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