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Commentary

Agriculture and the elections

This May 13, those we elect as senators will greatly affect the future of Philippine agriculture. From our current standpoint, this future looks bleak.

Compared to the industrial average growth of 6.8 percent over the last eight years, agriculture’s is dismal at 1.4 percent. Though agriculture by itself contributes only 9 percent to our gross domestic product, this significantly increases to more than 35 percent if agriculture-related industries and services are included.

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More significantly, in the rural areas where agriculture is located, the poverty rate is 34 percent. This is more than double that of our Asian neighbors.

The agriculture sector has been giving recommendations, but implementation over the last three years remained wanting. It is clear the executive branch needs legislative support for these to be fully implemented. So far, many of the Senate candidates have given little attention to agriculture and rural poverty reduction in their campaign speeches.

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The Movement for Good Governance has identified whom not to vote for, such as “kurakot” (corrupt) and “walang alam” (clueless). But to improve agriculture, these are necessary but not sufficient.

Senators must also have a commitment to accelerate agriculture development. Identified below are four key recommendations that must be part of a Senate agriculture agenda.

First, there must be legislation to require the formulation of professionally done agriculture road maps at the national, regional, and commodity levels. This is especially important in the new global environment, with the many international liberalized trade agreements.

Second, the 17,000 agriculture extension workers devolved to the local government units are generally not performing their functions in an effective way. This is because of inefficient systems; lack of technical, logistical, and monetary support; and poor technology coordination. Legislation must also correct this.

Third, the gaping agriculture credit gap must be addressed. Today, only 2 percent of loans go to agriculture.

The Land Bank of the Philippines should undergo transformation, or create a large subsidiary or financial institution patterned after the successful agriculture banks in Asia. This should be supported by effective guarantee, insurance and project development assistance, preferably using economies of scale.

Fourth, the Land Use Act must finally be passed after more than two decades of discussions in Congress. President Duterte identified this as his first priority in his 2017 Sona. If passed, this will ensure stability and security for both farmers and investors.

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Elections are just around the corner. We should also consider voting for senators who are committed to true agriculture development in order to reduce rural poverty.

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