After infra, agri
The first three years of the Duterte administration concentrated on infrastructure with its “Build, Build, Build” program. This initiative has gained momentum and is seen to continue for the next three years.
Attention must now be given to agriculture. It commands the same attention and priority as was given previously to the Build, Build, Build program. This is because agriculture is dragging our economy down. Executive director Rolando Dy of University of Asia and the Pacific’s Center for Food and Agribusiness states that agriculture and its allied industries contribute 35 percent to our gross domestic product (GDP).
It should be noted that food processing, which relies on agriculture for its input, is our largest manufacturing subsector. This amounts to 40 percent, twice the size of the next largest group. Unfortunately, our processors have to often rely on imported raw materials because we have inadequate supply due to poor agriculture planning.
Consider the table below:
Before we rejoice over the 2.4-percent agriculture growth rate in 2017-18, Dy explained that agriculture was still very much in trouble. The 2017 growth came after a 2-percent decline in 2016 due to drought. In 2018, a 0.9-percent growth, way below the target of 3 to 4 percent, was recorded.
At 4 a.m. on April 16, 2015, then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte and his assistant then, Bong Go, met with one leader each from the five-coalition Agri Fisheries Alliance (AFA). The purpose was to ask Duterte if he would act decisively on our deteriorating agriculture situation and the water crisis, since agriculture used 72 percent of our water.
Composing the AFA were Elias Jose Inciong of Alyansa Agrikultura; Pablito Villegas of the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food; Emil Javier of the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization of the Philippines; Lyn Natividad, standing in for Ampy Meciano of Kilusan ng mga Kababaihan sa Kanayunan ng Pilipinas (rural women in 28 provinces), and Roberto Amores of Agrifisheries 2025. At that meeting, two main issues were identified: agriculture deterioration and water crisis. Duterte responded by saying that if he became president, he would address both these issues in a significant way. The first issue of the water crisis is now being addressed. A concrete example is an executive order that will formulate and implement a water master plan, as well as finally coordinate our 32 water-related government agencies. Now that the Build, Build, Build program is well on its way, agriculture deterioration must immediately be addressed.
Recommendations that were given by the AGA during their first meeting with Duterte were even more urgent today. They came in three clusters.
The first is competent management. We must know what to do (road map) and then, do this effectively (management system, like the ISO 9000). The DTI’s performance recorded in the table above showed much better performance than DA’s. This is largely because the DA road maps are far better than the private sector-driven DA road maps, both in quality and quantity. In addition, ISO 9000 is in place in almost every DTI unit, while there are relatively few in the DA. Poor implementation remains a serious challenge for the DA because of lack of effective management systems.
The second cluster of recommendations involves agriculture support services, specifically agriculture extension and credit. There is still no effective system of motivating and monitoring municipal extension worker performance. In several municipalities, they are distracted by nonagriculture concerns because of inadequate head office guidance and support. While good loan programs have been launched by the DA, they are insignificant when compared to the amounts of agriculture needs. Up to now, agriculture loans constitute only 2 percent of the total loan availment, and there is no effective guarantee program to lessen the risks of agriculture lending, the way other countries have done.
In the area of policy reform, there is no policy agenda to ensure the younger generation takes over agriculture, where the average age of a farmer is now 57 years old. He also earns a daily income significantly lower than the minimum wage.
To attract the younger generation, there should be more income and less physically hard work. Mechanization may provide both these benefits. With P5 billion provided yearly for mechanization as an offshoot of the rice tariffication law, will there be a policy on importing agriculture machines from China, or a systematic effort to produce these machines with local materials and local labor. And on the subject of the low 35 percent tariffication where half of the farmers will get even less income, will the policy be tilted to favor importation, or finally providing services to make our farmers more competitive (which, incidentally, is more expensive in the short run).
Infrastructure is on its way. Agriculture has not even begun in a significant way. Let the remaining three years of the Duterte administration be the time to begin.
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