Agricultural neglect, Duterte and cacao
The neglect of the agriculture sector that we witnessed during the last six years can be significantly reversed by presumptive President-elect Rodrigo Duterte.
A concrete action he should take that will symbolize a dramatic turnaround is an extensive cacao intercropping program for the poorest agriculture sector in the country.
There are many indications of past agriculture neglect. President Aquino himself has said that we lack inclusive growth. Our rural poverty is 40 percent, while urban poverty is 13 percent. Our industry growth rate has averaged 6.4 percent in the last six years, while agriculture has grown by only 1.5 percent (less than half the government target).
From neglect to attention
Last April 16, Duterte promised to change all this in an early morning meeting with the five-coalition Agri-Fisheries Alliance (AFA).
Aside from creating an environment conducive to agriculture development by eliminating much of crime, corruption, and illegal drug trade, Duterte identified smuggling as a priority target.
As the smuggling rate increased from 28 percent in 2010 to 36 percent in 2014, agriculture was discriminated against. Industry always took priority over agriculture. The Bureau of Customs (BOC) Classification and Valuation Committee includes the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), but not the Department of Agriculture (DA).
The 32 industry commodity experts are accredited by the BOC, but not the six agriculture commodity experts.
At the National Competitiveness Council (NCC) Anti-Smuggling Committee created in April 2013, the DTI consistently sent official representatives to the more than 30 committee meetings to fight for industry. Not once did DA send an official representative to fight for agriculture.
From 2013 to 2015, when the Cabinet Economic Cluster of department secretaries met with the Philippine Business Groups-Joint Foreign Chambers (PBG-JFC), where Alyansa Agrikultura represented agriculture, DA again did not send a representative.
Last May 16, a publication reported that agriculture is not included in the identification of key economic managers: “Those who will hold the trade and industry, finance, public works, energy, budget, and economic planning portfolios.”
Now why is Duterte the person who can change all this?
When the leaders of the five agriculture coalition invited the presidentiables for a one-hour interview on their agriculture plans, only one candidate accepted: Duterte. The others did not think it was important enough for them to make time for this.
Duterte came well prepared for the meeting. He committed to install agriculture roadmaps and management systems, increase credit and insurance access, provide strong DA guidance for the 17,000 extension workers devolved to the Local Government Units (LGUs), ensure fair international trade with equitable subsidies and reduced smuggling, revamp agrarian reform with support services, and address fisherfolk poverty using a systems approach.
While these directions are praiseworthy, we recommend an immediately visible program for the largest and poorest agriculture sector.
It is a tragedy that our 4 million coconut farmers and farm workers today work on land that is practically idle, with nothing planted in between the coconut trees.
A presidential agriculture flagship program that should be implemented is cacao intercropping for these areas.
The table here was approved last April 26 with the harmonization of three previously uncoordinated cacao roadmaps from the DA, DTI, and the private sector Cacao Industry Development Association of Mindanao, Inc. (CIDAMI).
With a P66,000 loan for one hectare, a coconut farmer can start getting an initial income of P18,161 in the second year and P130,313 in the fifth year. This will be a substantial addition to the measly average of P20,000 he currently makes without intercropping. Of the 100,000 hectares targeted for the roadmap, 20,000 hectares were accomplished over four years. At this rate, it will take another 16 years to finish the target.
Valente Turtur (0917-3778756), co-chair of the newly organized public-private sector National Cacao Industry Council, said “Unfortunately, we do not know where to get the loans for the additional 80,000 hectares.”
At only P66,000 per hectare, only P5.3 billion is needed for the remaining target. This is equivalent to just 1.4 percent of the P386-billion loanable fund that the Land Bank of the Philippines had in 2014.
It was also in 2014 when LandBank provided only 9 percent of this fund for its mandated sector of small farmers and fisherfolk.
For cacao intercropping, the funds, market, and technical assistance have always been there. The lacking element was political will.
Through this cacao initiative, Duterte can show his political will by transforming agriculture neglect into agriculture prosperity.
(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, email firstname.lastname@example.org or telefax (02) 8522112).
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