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Commentary

6 old priorities for new DA chief

On Aug. 5, William Dar was named the new agriculture secretary. In addition to being well qualified, Dar must address six priorities if we are to reverse the downward trend in the sector. Over the last six years, growth averaged 1.6 percent, compared to industry’s 6.8 percent.

One reason is that these six priorities were not addressed. The “Build, Build, Build” emphasis sidelined a “Grow Grow Grow” requirement, especially for agriculture. New roads and bridges are of limited use if there are few products to transport due to ineffective agriculture governance.

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On July 27, anticipating the appointment of a new agriculture secretary, the heads of the five coalitions that make up the Agri Fisheries Alliance (AFA) met to evaluate progress on the six priorities they submitted in 2016 to President Duterte and Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol. These coalitions are Alyansa Agrikultura (farmers and fisherfolk), Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food (agribusiness), Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines (science and academe), Kilusan ng mga Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (rural women) and Agrifisheries 2025 (multisectors).

The AFA assessment: while Piñol showed commendable commitment to agriculture, circumstances prevented him from acting adequately on the six priorities. The AFA decided the “old” priorities were still the most important ones. Here they are, categorized under the three headings of governance, support services, and agriculture reform:

FEATURED STORIES

Governance

1. We must have a more effective DA. There must be professionally formulated road maps for the sector and strategic commodities. This must be done with an accompanying management system (eg, ISO 9000). We cannot get far if we don’t know what to do and how to do it. The DA is still lacking in both.

2. Though there has been improvement, stakeholder participation should be further enhanced. The legally mandated public-private agriculture and fisheries councils at the national and local levels often have too low level government representation. This discourages high level private representation. The necessary information is sometimes not provided to enable the private sector counterparts to monitor and recommend improvements to the DA services they are getting.

Support services

3. Agriculture extension is significantly lacking because the 17,000 agriculture extension workers who report to the local government units are not effectively used. They should be guided and helped by the DA. They should be connected to other technology sources such as state universities and colleges. The DA’s Agriculture Training Institute should help supervise the LGU extension services nationwide, as well as participate in the extension workers’ compensation scheme.
4. Credit and insurance are still seriously lacking. DA’s pride in expanding its loan program to P3 billion next year is insignificant, compared to the central bank-announced P375-billion agriculture credit gap. DA should find ways to influence Landbank to lend more than 22 percent of its funds to agriculture, and work for more credit, guarantee and insurance access from other institutions.

Agriculture reform

5. We must improve our international trade strategy to take advantage of better positioning through more subsidies (such as what is now needed given the rice tariffication law). Rampant agriculture smuggling can also be minimized through a DA-led public-private initiative with access to trade data as well as improved Bureau of Customs interaction.

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6. National concerns such as agriculture water conservation and management (agriculture uses 72 percent of all our water) should be more effectively addressed by the DA (even though NIA is not under it). Agrarian reform should be reengineered to provide for technology and economies of scale. The coco levy funds should be dispersed using a coconut road map, which does not exist and should be done immediately.

After more than a decade of agriculture sluggishness, we now need our new eminently qualified agriculture secretary to address these six priorities. Only then agriculture will have a chance to get the renaissance it has long been denied.

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TAGS: Commentary, Department of Agriculture, William Dar
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