Mona Lisa and Piñol
If Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol proves to be the opposite of Mona Lisa, our farmers and fisherfolk will soon be led to prosperity. In the award-winning song “Mona Lisa” by Nat King Cole, there is this line: “Many dreams have been left by your doorstep. They just lie there, and they die there.”
In the first seven days of his leadership at the Department of Agriculture (DA), Piñol has already taken decisive action on the six most important recommendations that he and President Duterte had committed to in two previous meetings with agriculture stakeholders.
Last Dec. 12, five coalitions from different agriculture sectors united to form the Agri-Fisheries Alliance (AFA). The objective was to ensure the unfulfilled dreams of the rural sector would become reality.
One example of Piñol’s brand of leadership was seen last July 6 in a meeting he had with rice seed growers and input providers in Los Baños, Laguna. During the meeting, the importance of using the right seeds and inputs such as fertilizers was shown. Piñol showed an admirable quality of listening and being open to new ideas.
Even before he became Agriculture chief, he embarked on his Biyaheng Bukid. Piñol went to different parts of the country asking farmers and fisherfolk what their real needs were and asked them for their recommended solutions. He did the same during the meeting on July 6.
Piñol even had all the DA regional directors listen to the stakeholders. The six model farmers present showed how they were able to produce 10 to 18 tons of palay per hectare (a yield two to four times more than the national average of 4 tons per hectare).
During the open forum, an Alyansa Agrikultura leader, speaking on behalf of AFA, raised the question of technology transfer. Alyansa Agrikultura (AA) represents the small farmers and fisherfolk.
The leader said: “While we may have model farmers and the optimal rice seeds and inputs, our 40 percent rural poverty will continue if technology transfer is not done effectively by our 17,000 agriculture extension workers.”
This is because these extension workers do not report to the DA, but to the local government units (LGUs). Unfortunately, too many LGU heads are not committed to agriculture and assign these extension workers to jobs not related to agriculture at all. Thus, agriculture is significantly sacrificed.
Fortunately, and most probably because of Piñol’s “strategic design,” Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueno sat beside him during the meeting. Like Piñol, Sueno is a former provincial governor and a farmer.
Sueno responded immediately and confirmed too many LGU-devolved extension workers were not doing their agriculture mandate. Piñol then made a commitment to the people present he would immediately make an arrangement so that the DA would have a bigger role in guiding these extension workers.
We will be reporting regularly on the progress made by the Duterte administration on the implementation of the six recommendations. For each recommendation, more detailed inputs can also be given by different sectors.
Today, DA provides each LGU-devolved extension worker a monthly honorarium between P4,000 and 7,000. One suggestion is that since DA is the provider of the honoraria, it should have a significant role in deciding how much each extension worker gets.
At the decentralized local level, an extension worker who does not have agriculture work must not get any honorarium at all. The outstanding ones, meanwhile, can even double their honoraria.
With decisive actions from Piñol such as what we observed last July 6, he can be the opposite of Mona Lisa and bring our farmers and fisherfolk to 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, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or telefax (02) 8522112.)
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