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Sona: a game-changer for agriculture

On Jan. 25, President Marcos committed to implement 10 game-changing agriculture directions and two laws. The priority given to agriculture in his State of the Nation Address (Sona) is a most welcome change from decades of neglect. We identify here some of these critical initiatives and one very important legislative measure.

Three directions:

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1. Provide farmers inexpensive farm inputs. These include fertilizer, pesticides, seeds, feeds. Fuel subsidy and help will also be given to deserving beneficiaries.

After sourcing from local suppliers, the government can then use its clout to import at low prices and provide subsidies long denied our farmers for the urgent support we need to avert a food crisis. Government must now take the initiative. Relying on the private sector to move on its own, under the past misguided policy that the private sector’s invisible hand is the solution, will be a recipe for disaster.

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2. Strengthen coordination among the players in the value chain.

This has been mentioned by other presidents in the past, insofar as consolidating our small one-hectare holdings to achieve economies of scale. Thailand succeeded because it has the Department of Agriculture and Cooperatives, which gives both the structure and budget for this badly needed coordination. We should do the same.

3. There will be new ways of planting and caring for animals.

Here is where technology comes in. But how can our farmers and fisherfolk get this technology when our agriculture extension workers are not there to help? The technology transfer other countries gave their farmers and fisherfolk to make their products globally competitive is largely absent here. In a December 6 multimedia interview with then presidential candidate Marcos, he emphasized the need for a strong guidance and support from the Department of Agriculture (DA) for LGUs to perform this critical function effectively.

Strategic law

We cite here the President’s proposed Department of Water Resources. Equally pressing as our threatening food crisis is the current global water crisis.

In the Philippines, there is poor water governance. Fifty-five people die every day, largely because the 32 water-related government agencies do not even communicate with each other.

In Asian Development Bank studies in 2013 and 2016, the Philippines ranked at the bottom quarter of 48 countries in all five categories of water governance.

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In 2017, a legislative-executive-private sector water task force was created. It was led by the Office of the President, then represented by Secretary Leoncio Velasco. This was guided largely by Senator Loren Legarda and then Environment Secretary Regina Lopez, who helped support the task force members who came from seven different departments. Seven University of the Philippines Los Baños deans provided technical support while I was tasked as the private sector secretary general.

Upon completion of the task, our ADB ranking improved. We ranked second only to Malaysia, and above Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand.

Of the seven priority recommendations that emerged during seven pre-summits nationwide, the most important was the creation of a Department of Water Resources. Especially important was the need for water harvesting, which we do for just 4 percent of our supply, way below India’s 60 percent.

This law, therefore, is critical to achieve agriculture success.

On July 25, GRS Holdings chair Joe Simeon wrote the agribusiness committee of the Management Association of the Philippines: “Water is what the farmers need during dry season. Just impound water during rainy season so water will become available during dry season. Construct a series of dams along the rivers from the mountain and install release valves during the dry season, just as Japan and Korea do.” But this needs the coordination of water agencies, which could only be addressed by a Department of Water.

The challenge of Mr. Marcos’ Sona is in its implementation. The private sector must now join hands with the government so that the rhetoric in his Sona becomes our agriculture reality.

The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of presidential flagship programs and projects, and former undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry. Contact is [email protected]

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