Dar’s present for DA’s future
On July 22, Agriculture Secretary William Dar gave his most important present for the Department of Agriculture’s future. On that day, he gave the private sector a critical and pivotal role in agriculture governance.
Dar had called a Zoom leaders’ meeting of 32 agriculture-related organizations. These leaders, all active private sector participants of the legislated public-private Philippine Council of Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF), were dismayed that different authorities had cut the budget for their participation by half, abolished the PCAF committees, removed the elected volunteer leaders, canceled the quarterly meetings and terminated critical committees where the private sector could give their suggestions for the DA to better serve agriculture development and the stakeholders.
Since Dar already knew about the issues that had arisen based on wrong information, he turned the meeting’s mood of disillusionment to one of optimism. In addition to restoring the structure the leaders were seeking, Dar made a game-changing announcement. From that day on, it would be the private sector, instead of the bureau directors, who would chair meetings of the DA’s banner programs.
The mood of the meeting changed from dismay to motivation. The private sector now feels excited and challenged to perform its new role in agriculture cogovernance. Instead of a government top-down approach, a strong private sector bottom-up perspective would provide valuable missing input on agriculture’s critical issues. In addition, they could suggest effective, practical and implementable solutions.
Last Aug. 4, we saw this in action. When the Rice and Corn Banner Program met to finalize details on the sector’s 2021 budget proposal, Ilocos Region agriculture and fisheries private sector head Vincent Adorna chaired the meeting, with the DA directors serving as cochairs.
In the past, the private sector would meet lower-level government personnel. There was no assurance that private sector recommendations would be understood by the relevant bureau directors or agency heads, who make the decisions. This is because they would not be there at crucial times due to other priorities. But as cochairs, these directors would now hear private sector views, and decide immediately on some of their recommendations.
For example, during this meeting, a government official talked about how rice prices were a major factor causing the high inflation rate in 2018, and how rice tariffication eased inflation in 2019. A private sector leader stated that according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), this was not accurate. PSA said the higher rice prices caused only 10 percent of the 2018 inflation increase. Similarly, the lower rice prices resulting from the rice tariffication law accounted for only 9 percent of the 2019 inflation decrease. This small impact did not justify the resulting 50 percent decline in rice farmers’ net income. This negative impact on farmers could have been averted by safeguards allowed by our law and the World Trade Organization. Unfortunately, the government failed to provide them.
He argued that this was why a focused agriculture budget and implementation for 2021 is imperative. At the meeting, new private sector recommendations were made, many of which gained the directors’ support.
In a meeting of the Banner Program on Mechanization the next day, a private sector member reiterated that global positioning system (GPS) should be a required specification in tractor bidding. The GPS enables the automatic electronic monitoring of a tractor’s use and location. This ensured better implementation and minimizes corruption. Because of the private sector’s coleadership role in this committee, the government can now act swiftly on this recommendation.
On July 22, Dar gave the private sector a pivotal coleadership role in agriculture governance. This means the private sector will now have significant responsibility and accountability. This is the present Dar is giving for the DA’s future. The private sector must now rise to this challenge and maximize, rather than squander, this precious gift.
The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of presidential programs and projects, and former undersecretary of DA and DTI. Contact is [email protected].