Duterte loves agriculture
Mayor Rodrigo Duterte loves agriculture. He demonstrated this even before the elections.
Even with his election as President of the Philippines becoming more imminent, industry leaders are still saying they do not know enough of his industry agenda. Different business associations are asking for separate meetings with him to find out more about his plans while making their own recommendations.
On the other hand, last Dec. 12, five agriculture coalitions decided to engage the presidential candidates on their respective agriculture agendas. Each coalition represented a different sector: farmers and fisherfolks; agribusiness; science and academe; rural women; and agri-fisheries.
Previously, these sectors had minimal interaction with each other. They therefore decided to unite and form the Agri-Fisheries Alliance (Afa).
On Feb. 12, 2016, after numerous meetings and discussions, each coalition submitted its own unique set of recommendations to the candidates. In addition, they unanimously agreed on six common action areas the current administration neglected, largely causing non-inclusive growth in the last six years: industry grew at 6.4% annually, while agriculture grew at only 1.5% (half the government target of 4%). Specific questions on these areas were then submitted to the candidates for their responses and proposed action plans.
Perhaps because of Duterte’s commitment to agriculture, he was the only candidate who agreed to meet with the five coalition leaders in an in-depth discussion on his agriculture agenda. This happened from 4 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. last April 16.
Emil Javier, former University of the Philippines president and chair of the Coalition of Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines (Camp), represented the science sector and the academe. He asked from Duterte the three most important things he could do for agriculture where the current administration fell short of.
Consistent with his advocacy for federalism and decentralization, Duterte said he would allocate at least P1 billion for each region in the Philippines. Each region would then independently decide how this would be spent to support agriculture. The private sector would be a key partner in planning and implementation, including setting up food terminals in major markets.
Second, Duterte said he would promote one major crop for each community. He said this would give way to economies of scale in production, marketing and financing.
Third and most important, Duterte said he would ensure an environment conducive to agriculture development. This meant addressing the corruption, crime, drugs, and peace and order problems stifling agriculture development. Duterte cited many instances when corruption was the biggest bottleneck that hindered this development.
The coalition leaders then discussed with Duterte the key agriculture issues that were most responsible for the country’s high 40% rural poverty. This poverty rate is very high, compared to only 19% in Vietnam, 14% in Thailand and in Indonesia and 2% in Malaysia.
Services and reform
For services, Javier asked about what Duterte could do for credit (the Land Bank of the Philippines gave only 9% of its P386-billion fund to small farmers and fisherfolk) and insurance (the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation released only P1.1 billion last year). Duterte said he would minimize the number of unscrupulous middlemen and loan sharks by restructuring Landbank and other government institutions that provide credit and insurance, especially in light of climate change.
On agriculture extension, Duterte, being an experienced mayor, said many of the 17,000 agriculture extension workers devolved to the LGUs were sidelined by political considerations. He vowed a stronger role for the Department of Agriculture (DA) in supervising these extension workers.
For agriculture reform, Elias Jose Inciong, United Broiler Raisers Association (Ubra) president and Alyansa Agrikultura (AA) spokesperson, represented farmers and fisherfolk. He cited the need for a level playing field in the country’s international trade.
Duterte said he favored that our subsidies be equivalent to those given by our neighboring countries. He said he would deal harshly with smuggling, which has recently reached an alarming rate of over 30%, via the help of a high-level private-public sector oversight body.
He said he would revamp agrarian reform with the proper support services, combat fisherfolk poverty with a systems approach, improve coconut farmer welfare through the coconut levy and introduction of intercropping mechanisms, and give high priority to the water crisis that today has already severely impacted countries like India.
For governance, Roberto Amores, PhilFoodex president, PCCI agriculture committee chair and Agriculture Fisheries 2025 (AF2025) spokesperson, represented agribusiness and multisector leaders. He argued all the policies and plans would not work without effective implementation.
He asked Duterte if he would put into place missing agriculture roadmaps, management systems and private sector involvement. He also asked for a competent agriculture secretary.
Duterte agreed to take decisive action on these valid governance concerns. He said he would make a proven management track record a requirement for his agriculture secretary, thus avoiding the practice of appointing a politician with little management expertise.
Former North Cotabato Governor Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol Tuesday accepted Duterte’s offer to replace Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala.
Realizing the late hour of 5 a.m., an initial attempt to end the meeting was turned down by Duterte, who wanted to talk more about his agriculture plans.
After he left at 5:30 a.m., Inciong said: “My opinion of Duterte has changed. He was very genuine and totally committed to agriculture. I just wish he would talk less about people getting killed.”
The leaders of the five coalitions concluded there was risk in a Duterte presidency if he eventually decides to skirt the law. But all agreed that his strong commitment and political will would be a great asset in addressing agriculture issues.
The leaders were unanimous in saying Duterte indeed loves agriculture.
(The author is convenor of Agri-Fisheries Alliance, chair of Alyansa Agrikultura, former secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former Undersecretary for Agriculture, Trade and Industry)
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