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Agriculture after Sona

Though agriculture was not prominently mentioned at the State of the Nation Address (Sona) on July 27, agriculture may see a marked improvement after President Duterte’s speech.

Mr. Duterte mentioned three things that favored agriculture: (1) The Department of Agriculture (DA) was the only department he identified with a specific amount for Congress approval; (2) “Plant, Plant, Plant” should be easier to implement than “Build, Build, Build” and (3) Congress should immediately pass the coco levy trust fund bill.

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These three points can still be improved. While Mr. Duterte asked for support for the DA’s proposed P66-billion budget, it is only 1.5 percent of the proposed 2021 national budget P4.3 trillion. While agriculture and construction were acknowledged as the two most strategic sectors for economic recovery during this time of pandemic, the resources and attention given to agriculture (“Plant, Plant, Plant”) are far below those given to construction (“Build, Build, Build”). While the coco levy’s fund quick release was recommended, Joey Faustino, Coconut Industry Reform Movement leader and Alyansa Agrikultura cofounder, said: “Malacañang should make a stand on the levy, instead of leaving it to Congress.” On June 26, alarmed by the continuing deterioration of agriculture, the five-coalition heads of the Agri Fisheries Alliance (AFA) wrote directly to the President. They identified agriculture’s main weaknesses, and asked to meet him again. They had met him on April 16, 2016, when Mr. Duterte committed to improve agriculture if he was elected president.

These five coalitions are Alyansa Agrikultura, Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc., Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines, Pambansang Kilusan ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan and Agriculture Fisheries 2025. They said departments other than the DA were crucial to agriculture’s needed turnaround.Agriculture’s growth had averaged only 1.4 percent in the last nine years, while our rural poverty rate of 25 percent is nearly double Indonesia’s 14 percent and triple Thailand’s 8 percent.

FEATURED STORIES

Mr. Duterte agreed to the AFA meeting, but designated Agriculture Secretary William Dar to represent him. AFA would then report the meeting results the President. During this meeting, the Sona was made a starting point, with nine initiatives identified which signal significant agriculture change.

1. Innovative international trade strategies, such as the appropriate import regulation, should be implemented immediately to save millions of jobs. There are 26 import regulation moves by other countries during this pandemic recorded at the World Trade Organization. The Philippines does not have even one.

2. There has to be quick action on critical tariff changes. Poultry chicken parts and swine offals were forced to drop their 40 percent and 35 percent tariffs as trade offs for maintaining rice quantitative restrictions. These restrictions were lifted more than a year ago, but still no action on tariff restoration, resul­ting in enormous losses.

3. Subsidized imported frozen fish should be stopped from entering wet markets with no refrigeration facilities. This poses health problems because of the decaying fish, and deprives nonsubsidized local fisherfolk the sales they need.

4. Rampant agriculture smuggling should be stopped. This should be done by a mechanism that succeeded twice in reducing the smuggling rate by more than 25 percent, but was abolished twice. It is the creation of a joint public-private antismuggling group. In addition, the DA will adopt the effective DA practice of a private sector expert approved by the Bureau of Customs to access the appropriate data and help conduct physical inspection for their respective subsectors.

5. Agriculture exports will be given the necessary trade facilitation that hinders their growth. The question is why it is easier to import than export, when it is the latter that creates jobs.6. Rural women’s role, specially during this pandemic, should get recognition. This means measures should be implemented to ensure that women have equal access as men to government resources and services.7. The coconut levy fund will be worked on by coconut stakeholders and the government to help ensure its speedy release. This will provide a transparent effective system to truly benefit coconut farmers.

8. The budgets of each DA bureau will be thoroughly reviewed by its respective stakeholders to ensure their responsiveness to priority needs. This extends to budget monitoring and implementation, and now includes interaction with Congress.9. The National Information Network mandated in Sections 38-42 of the 1997 Agriculture Fisheries Modernization Act (Republic Act No. 8435) will finally be put up. This will enable good information exchange, proper planning and effective implementation, which is sorely lacking today.

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Essential to all of the above is private sector participation, which is consistent with Secretary Dar’s new thinking, but needs much more support. As shown in the nine initiatives above, the 2020 Sona has provided the momentum for this groundbreaking direction for a better agriculture future. INQ

The author is Agriwatch chair, former Secretary of Presidential programs and Projects, and former Undersecretary of DA AND DTI. Contact is [email protected]

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TAGS: Agriculture, State of the Nation Address (Sona)
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