Prerequisites for meaningful agriculture growth
Two things are needed before we can achieve significant agriculture growth: a policy to identify agriculture as one of the top two priorities to survive and grow during this COVID-19 crisis (the other being construction) and the inclusion of private sector mechanisms to support Agriculture Secretary William Dar in his agriculture mandate.
Agriculture has grown by an average of 1.6 percent from 2011 to 2017, then 0.6 percent and 0.7 percent in the following two years. This disappointing performance has been caused partly by a poor understanding of Philippine agriculture in the global context.
On June 22, the heads of 48 agri-based organizations issued a statement decrying faulty government direction. Coordinated by chair Gregorio San Diego, Jr. and president Elias Jose Inciong of the United Broiler Raisers Association, it said in part: “The government acts with alacrity when supply is short by resorting to importation …The DA through the Bureau of Animal Industry, like all the past administrations, has again invoked our WTO (Wprld Trade Organization) commitments to feign helplessness.”
Because the DA has not given enough attention to international agriculture trade, we have not used the creative strategies of other countries to support their farmers. The DA does not have the competently formulated road maps and management systems in the way the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has. The consequence is agriculture growth lagging significantly behind industry’s.
In addition, agriculture smuggling in cases like rice, poultry and livestock is rampant. This is again partly because DA does not have the access to international data that the DTI has. If you take the export volume of products reported by the exporting countries and compare that to the volume recorded as our import volume by the Bureau of Customs, the discrepancy is due to outright or technical smuggling. This results in lost jobs and income for our agriculture stakeholders.
In the area of agriculture mechanisms to support Dar, the glaring gap is the inadequate role of the private sector in governance. This is happening in spite of Dar’s advocacy for more private sector involvement.
Ironically, the Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries Council, which institutionalizes private sector participation in governance through the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (Afma), or Republic Act No. 8435, got a 50-percent budget cut for this year. Worse, critical private sector committees like international trade, climate change, mechanization, budget review and monitoring, as well as several key commodity cluster groups were abolished.
These public-private committees, chaired by an elected private sector representative, meet regularly every quarter. Private sector participation includes farmers, fisherfolk, food processors, traders, consumers, and other agriculture stakeholders. Ever since these committees were terminated last Jan. 27, former committee members have been uninformed on critical events in their respective areas.
These committees make policy and program recommendations, suggest resource allocations and monitor budgets. This important role has disappeared. The largely underutilized provincial and municipal agriculture and fisheries councils, similarly mandated by the same Afma law to perform similar functions, should now be reenergized. It is at the local level where agriculture policies and programs can be made most suitable to actual community needs, and budgets best utilized and monitored.
Because of COVID-19, it is specially important now that these local councils be empowered to help reinvent the new agriculture approaches needed to address our crisis. But certain selfish forces still inside the DA are stopping Dar from fully realizing his private sector advocacy.
These are rapidly changing and challenging times. Dar must be supported fully by a government that makes agriculture a top priority for us to recover and grow. In addition, strong private sector mechanisms should be put in place to support agriculture policies and programs, needed now more than ever. With these two prerequisites met, we can achieve a more significant agriculture growth.
The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of Presidential Programs and Projects, and former undersecretary of the DA and DTI. Contact is [email protected]
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