‘Import, Import, Import’
It is not “Build, Build, Build” nor “Plant, Plant, Plant.” It is rather “Import, Import, Import.” This is the image of some important units of the Department of Agriculture (DA). It must be corrected. This is not the fault of the DA’s hardworking and talented employees, but the wrong guidance of some key former DA officials. This has resulted in the disappointing average agriculture growth rate in the last nine years: 1.4 percent compared to industry’s 6.6 percent.
In fact, the DA has deridingly been called various names: “Department of Architecture,” because it stops at drawings and does not execute them; “Department of Disaster,” because of indifference, incompetence and corruption (remember the alleged Napoles scams), and the “Department of Imports” (because of recent events). But changing the course of a major government department is not like turning a small speedboat quickly around, but slowly changing a huge ship’s direction.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar is trying to do this at the DA. He even designated private sector leaders to be the chairs of DA banner programs, with the DA as cochair. The private sector will now be a partner in co-governance, with their corresponding responsibility and accountability.
During this pandemic, we saw a significant change in the second quarter. Agriculture grew by 1.6 percent, while industry and services declined by 22.9 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Nevertheless, just as a ship encounters serious difficulties, agriculture experiences major setbacks, many of which are related to imports.
•Rice tariffication resulted in rice farmer incomes decreasing by 30-50 percent, with an aborted rice study and the denial of safeguards that would have lessened the impact of cheap imported rice on farmers. Rice prices were blamed as the main cause of the increased 2018 inflation, and therefore safeguards could not be given. But this was contradicted by the Philippine Statistics Authority, which showed that rice accounted for only 10 percent of the inflation increase, and DA showed little action.
•As of July 16, the poultry industry had already lost P95 billion to subsidized chicken imports, domestic poultry feed sales lost another P14 billion, and thousands of poor farmers were deprived of their livelihood. Pleas for import regulation were ignored, even though 26 instances from several countries had already been recorded at the World Trade Organization (WTO), but none from the Philippines.
In other areas, imports have damaged agriculture significantly. The Asia Swine Flu that has created havoc that could have been prevented by quarantine facilities that other countries have. The restoration of tariff from 5 percent to 40 percent for mechanically boned meat has not been mad, which was a WTO agreement that should have happened when rice tariffication took effect; the importation of feed wheat during corn harvest will depress farmer incomes; the absence of an ISO 9000 system and no appeal procedure has resulted in the example of imported animals confined to quarantine in small boxes for more than 30 days.
However, Secretary Dar is taking action. He has launched rice improvement programs, stopped poultry importation from Brazil and Australia; started construction of a major quarantine facility; and is implementing ISO 9000 management systems in the DA units, majority of which still have none.
The correct import direction is given by Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez in his “Unabated Importation Harms Local Farmers, Contrary to Government’s Promise of ‘Malasakit.’” He wrote: “Foreign players enjoy substantial subsidies and incentives from their governments. The price they sell their products to our country is at a price lower than the real market value of that product. How can a poor country like the Philippines compete against that? We have to reevaluate the importation policies being implemented right now, specially given the public health and economic crisis we find ourselves in. Certain local agriculture sectors may collapse due to continuous and unabated importation of food products. Nasaan ngayon ang malasakit sa local farmers?” Dar is now trying to turn the ship around toward this perspective. The private sector must support this new import direction to change the image of a “Department of Imports.” If not, they will have to abandon their vision of agriculture as the backbone of our nation. INQThe author is Agriwatch chair, former Secretary of Presidential programs and Projects, and former Undersecretary of DA AND DTI.
Contact is [email protected]
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.