Private sector makes things happen
Key to our agriculture export growth is private sector participation in governance. It is ultimately the private sector that will make this growth happen.
This was the conclusion at the international trade committee meeting of the public-private Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF) held last August 29. On the private sector side were leaders representing farmers and fisherfolk, such as chair Leonardo Montemayor of the Federation of Free Farmers, and from business, pioneers such as Imelda Madarang, chief executive of Fisher Farms.
Last June 16, President Marcos launched the Philippine Export Development Plan (PEDP) 2023-2028. The target is to increase our agriculture exports to $8.9 billion in five years.
Last year, the country’s agriculture exports hit just $6.8 billion, way below Thailand’s $35.6 billion (which is approximately the equivalent of our remittances from abroad). If we only had agriculture governance similar to that of Thailand, which was very behind us in the past, we would not have needed to send our citizens abroad to earn our required foreign exchange—and at such a great cost to our social fabric.
At present, our top agriculture exports are banana, coconut, pineapple, tuna (and other fishes) and tobacco. Alarmingly, even with these products, we are losing our market share to our competitors.
We must be doing something wrong.
Unfortunately, the PEDP did not specify which key products would reverse this trend. There are also no specific plans to bolster our lead in these products.
This is where the private sector must come in. For decades now, they have been building relationships with suppliers, distributors, customers—and even competitors. In other words, they—not the government—know what is needed best.
The $8.2-billion export target relies largely on historical trends. The private sector can set a possible higher export target. They should identify new creative opportunities using current global analysis and ask for government support.
Consider the case of coconut. The Philippines just hosted the Coconut World Congress, which ran from August 30 up to September 1.
In terms of hectares, we have the largest area in the world for coconut planting, spanning 69 provinces out of 81. We are the world’s second largest coconut exporter and have the means to boost such potential through proper usage of the coconut levy worth P125 billion.
But we are in danger of losing our lead if we do not address our strengths against emerging strong global competition.
In the coconut congress, our private sector leaders were updated and therefore well-positioned to make clear recommendations. So far, we have no specifics on the coconut sector’s contribution to the PEDP export target.
There is another good news. Last August 29, Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) Administrator Bernie Cruz met with industry leaders to discuss possible government support interventions. He said he would make available all information on current plans and budget use in order for the private sector to make detailed recommendations.
It was suggested that PCA look closely at the fund use of the different agencies with access to the levy. This way, efforts won’t be disorganized but integrated into a unified plan.
The private sector can help in monitoring programs and fund utilization. This approach should be used by three to five key export sectors that will drive an aggressive export strategy, the way Thailand and Vietnam are doing theirs.
Once these sectors are identified, a new dynamism will emerge where the private sector will be fully involved and made co-responsible for any export success or failure. This is the way it should be. After all, it is ultimately the private sector that will make things happen.