It’s time we focus on producing high-value crops
For us to achieve agriculture prosperity, emphasis must be given to high-value crops (HVCs). Since these have been largely ignored, millions of our farmers remain mired in poverty. Eighty percent of our arable land is used for rice, coconut and corn via a single commodity approach. There is little attention given to HVC intercropping, relay cropping and diversification.
Last April 17, in her keynote speech highlighting the High-Value Crops Week, Senate committee on agriculture chair Cynthia Villar said: “After 27 years, we are still facing limited diversity, low productivity and few successful high-value agribusinesses. High-value crops provide higher net returns per hectare that have competitive returns on investment.”
She added a disturbing fact: The prior year, “HVC programs received a 2.83-percent share of the total agriculture budget. Despite this meager funding, HVCs contributed 25.21 percent to the total value of production.”
For this year, HVCs received just 2.97 percent of the Department of Agriculture (DA) budget. There was hardly any change and it’s something that will likely continue until next year.
From a global perspective, the International Food Policy Research Institute cited a study by Aruja et al. that examined the impact of crop diversification toward HVCs: “The findings reveal that the cultivation of high-value crops play a significant role in enhancing farm income, consumption expenditure and reducing poverty.” The study also stated that growers should allocate areas for HVCs “to have significant income enhancement and poverty reduction.”
From a Philippine perspective, Palanca awardee and agriculture columnist Yvette Tan quoted Julius Barcelona, chair of the Agribusiness Countryside Development Foundation (in partnership with the Management Association of the Philippines): “Vietnam focused on their comparative advantage of small-scale, high-value products,” and that we should do the same while “consolidating the production of staple crops.”
Bureau of Plant Industry Director Glenn Panganiban said HVCs should be promoted widely: “Let us plant in our backyards and in our communities so that we can have a whole of nation approach to food security.”
Villar fittingly gave this strategic view: “As the economy … grows, it tends to move out of subsistence food crop production to a diversified market-oriented production system. Even in other countries, economic development has been accompanied by a shift in the product mix from food staples to HVCs, livestock and poultry.”
At the budget hearings of the DA, the budget for HVCs did not include diversification resources proposed in the major commodity programs. Last year, we saw how the budget for HVCs in the commodity programs were decreased in favor of main commodity provisions (even if HVCs provided double the returns of the commodity itself).
For the final budget presentation, all the HVC program budgets, including those embedded in the commodity budgets, should be presented as a complete strategy. In the process, the HVC budgets in the commodity groups will be given the proper priority.
These inclusions are key to increasing the farmer’s income through intercropping, relay cropping and diversification. Minimizing these, as what has happened before, has resulted in our failed single commodity approach.
In this period of global food supply uncertainty and insecurity, we must also look at the potential of import substitution.
For example, we import 70 percent of our coffee and cacao, even if we can actually produce and export them along with the proper government support. We should consider HVCs an essential part of the major commodity program budgets for rice, coconut and corn. They should not be treated as options.
Villar has shown the way. The government and the private sector must now jointly support the neglected HVCs, and do this all the way to achieve our needed agriculture prosperity.
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@example.com.
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