No recess for farmer success
If farmers are to succeed in improving their livelihood and ensuring food security for our people, there can be no letup in government engagement.
Two weeks ago, an Alyansa Agrikultura leader said: “We are giving up talking with this government. We are not getting results. We will just wait for the new government two years from now.”
The leader gave examples of why he was discouraged: “There was no united government opposition to the proposed revolutionary government, or to renaming the Ninoy Aquino International Airport to desecrate our national hero in the midst of our pandemic crisis. There was no move to postpone the ABS-CBN franchise issue and the constitutional aspects of the antiterrorism law for the more urgent pandemic problem.”
According to Movement for Good Governance chair Winnie Monsod and president Nene Guevara, our 2020 pandemic budget of 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) is way below Malaysia’s 17 percent, Thailand’s 9.4 percent, and Vietnam’s 8.5 percent. Worse, the 2021 budget is proposed to be only 0.7 percent of GDP.
This leaders asked: “Is ‘Build, Build, Build’ more important than our poor people’s welfare? Specifically for agriculture, why did the government not use the Philippine Statistics Authority finding that only 10 percent of the 2018 inflation increase was due to rice? This was a big factor in preventing rice tariffication law safeguards, which could have prevented rice farmers losing 30 to 50 percent of their already low incomes.”
He continued, “What about inaction on the requested justifiable poultry import restrictions? During this pandemic time, as of Aug. 5, 26 import restrictions from different countries were recorded at the World Trade Organization, but none from the Philippines. Agriculture smuggling continues, and despite documented reports, little action is taken. Agriculture, which contributes directly and indirectly 33 percent of our GDP, got only 1.9 percent of the proposed 2021 budget. From this, 3.6 percent went to our ailing poultry and livestock industry, which contributes 30 percent of agriculture GDP, while the coconut sector got only P1.1 billion, compared to rice’s P27.6 billion. This is nonsense. So why bother engaging this government?”
Because there is now more hope. We saw this in a July 29 meeting between the five-coalition Agri Fisheries Alliance (AFA) and President Duterte, represented by Agriculture Secretary William Dar, where four departments critical to agriculture are involved. The arrangement is for AFA to submit a final accomplishment report to the President, with monthly interim progress updates.
Meeting results were game-changing.
Restrictions were placed on poultry imports from Brazil and Australia. The private sector will now work with the Department of Agriculture (DA) and Department of Trade and Industry to look further at import and export arrangements. A DA-approved private sector person will be assigned specially to work closely on trade agreements, policies and practices so that it will finally be easier to export than Import, which is the opposite today.
The fight against smuggling will now be made of a composite team of the DA and the private sector. For the first time, commodity technical experts recommended by DA and approved by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) will aid in this effort. We helped institutionalize a similar existing arrangement for industry experts, with BOC giving them badges and even providing a permanent holding room for them. The private sector will work with Congress to improve the quantity and quality of the budget, which had previously been determined by the DA and the Department of Budget and Management, without much private sector consultation. This time, the DA will provide the private sector with information for the Congress budget work. The private sector will now be a main contributor to the legislated National Information Network after 23 years of nonimplementation, when the private sector was not even consulted. Most importantly, Secretary Dar has made the unprecedented move of making an elected private sector representative chair of each DA banner program, with the DA acting as cochair.
These are game-changing improvements. It is ill-advised for the private sector to not engage government at this time. Meanwhile, our farmers should continue organizing and actualizing their vision of agriculture being the backbone of our nation. And since they have no recess, neither should needed critical government engagement go on recess.
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