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Where is agriculture in the elections?

/ 05:20 AM September 03, 2021

Because agriculture was largely absent as a major campaign issue in the 2010 and 2016 presidential campaigns, it was likewise not given enough attention in the last two administrations. This must not happen again.

In the nine years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, agriculture grew by an annual average of just 1.6 percent versus the industry’s 6.8 percent.

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Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua explained why the budget of the Department of Agriculture (DA) was reduced from 2020 to 2021: “We have been putting hundreds of billions in agriculture over many years. Why is it that the sector has not helped the farmers rise up the income ladder? This is not only about the amount of the money in the budget; it is how we allocate and use them.”

The DA budget for 2022 was also not significantly increased. Even if agriculture contributes directly and indirectly 35 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP), the DA will get only 2 percent of the national budget (versus Vietnam’s 5 to 6 percent and Thailand’s 3 to 4 percent). Agriculture’s lack of good governance (partly because of dysfunctional political interference) and budget support are major reasons why our rural poverty is 32 percent, double Vietnam’s 17 percent and Indonesia’s 15 percent.

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How do we correct this? If the presidential candidates care for our suffering agriculture sector, they should make it a main campaign issue and commit publicly to agriculture strategic action.

For the 2016 elections, Alyansa Agrikultura (AA) called for a coalition with other sectors to form AgriFisheries Alliance. The group narrowed down their recommendations to six important points.

On July 31, the AA executive committee evaluated the government response over the last five years. There were successes, but there were also disappointments especially in three categories: governance (such as effective DA bureaucracy, stakeholder participation); support services (extension, credit and insurance); and agriculture reform (international trade and tariffs, other areas such as marine and fisheries reform).

Recommendations

AA identified the following six priorities for the candidates of the next elections to consider:

Regulated imports: The primary emphasis should be developing our agriculture, not promoting subsidized imports with new unjustified low tariffs, which are done without the necessary due diligence and safeguard measures.

Capacity-building in local government units (LGUs): There should be an extensive program to help LGUs in effective agriculture planning and implementation, especially in light of the Mandanas-Garcia ruling.

Fisheries and aquaculture: This neglected sector gets less than 10 percent of the DA budget, but it has a very high return on investment) and covers the poorest sector of our country. It is a major source of food security, which is also why the West Philippine Sea intrusion must be acted on decisively.

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Multicropping in clusters: Our monocrop culture (especially in coconut and rice) will condemn our farmers to poverty. Intercropping, relay measures and planting high-value crops will add significantly to their low incomes. The clustering of small farms is absolutely necessary for economies of scale and global competition.

Women empowerment: Equity, productivity and justice require a much larger women empowerment program. Today, women have a very small share in areas such as fisheries production (15 percent), agriculture services (27 percent) and equipment/facilities (39 percent).

Private sector participation: There should be much more meaningful private sector participation, especially at the provincial and municipal levels. The legislated Philippine Council of Agriculture and Fisheries had its budget for private sector participation cut by half in 2021. This should be restored, as should critical committees such as international trade and budget (including monitoring—a proven anticorruption deterrent—which is nonexistent today).

Agriculture must be tackled in the coming elections. Otherwise, the next six years won’t see the progress we need in this sector.

The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of Presidential Programs and Projects and former undersecretary of the DA and the Department of Trade and Industry.

Contact is [email protected]

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