Private sector and the new Agriculture Secretary
Agriculture governance is too important to leave to the government alone.
With Francisco Tiu Laurel’s appointment as agriculture secretary, the private sector must be able to actively coordinate with the department to pursue transformation in the sector.
Last Dec, 5, the DA stressed the need to “modernize the long-neglected sector.” At a hearing, Laurel said: “Awareness of what’s going on around us allows us to make quick and sound decisions. For what is happening on the ground, kailangan ang constant communication sa ating mga magsasaka at mangingisda (We need constant communication with our farmers and fisherfolk).”
Laurel’s recognition of the agriculture’s long neglect and the need for constant communication is a welcome sign. Before his Senate confirmation, Laurel listened carefully to different stakeholder groups and stressed later on that he wanted to meet with them regularly.
One such group he will meet every six weeks is the AgriFisheries Alliance. It is composed of the three key sectors of farmers and fisherfolk (Alyansa Agrikultura, led by Arsenio Tanchuling), agribusiness (Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food, Inc., led by Danilo Fausto), and science and academe (Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines, led by Emil Javier).
There are other groups, but the most important one is the legislated public-private Philippine Council of Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF).
PCAF’s key mandates are: “(1) To establish a nationwide network of agriculture and fisheries councils to serve as the forum for consultation and continuing discussions with the agriculture and fisheries sector; and (2) To assist the DA in the broad-based monitoring and coordination of the agriculture and fisheries modernization process.” It is composed of 16 regional agriculture fisheries councils (supported by similar councils in provinces and municipalities), and 13 national sectoral committees (for rice, coconut, international trade, etc). The private sector leaders are elected by members from both the private and government sectors.
To ensure meaningful private sector participation, the first step is to restore proper implementation of the neglected PCAF mandate to “monitor and coordinate the agriculture and fisheries modernization process.”
The past procedure of DA regional directors providing a complete list of all their government-funded programs to their respective private sector-led regional councils was terminated. These days, a partial self-selected list has severely limited the monitoring powers of the provincial and municipal councils.
This “limited” monitoring of the budget has resulted in P21 billion to P23 billion in unliquidated and unexplained fund releases for each of the years 2020, 2021 and 2022 (per the Commission on Audit report). The amount wasted is already one third of the entire DA budget of less than P70 billion. Considering that the DA’s budget is just 2 percent of the national budget (way lower compared with Vietnam’s 7 percent), the amount COA found is a significant waste and could be disastrous to the sector.
Another issue I want to point out is that the PCAF budget for operations was previously cut in half. This occurred about the same time that critical PCAF units like the international trade committee was abolished and the budget monitoring procedure severely impaired.
At the previous PCAF national conference, private sector leaders unanimously passed a resolution asking the commodity-based bureaus to augment the reduced budget. It is hoped that the DA Secretary will be able to provide an answer to this resolution.
Let me note that the PCAF secretariat is excellent. In many cases, the secretariat has been the farmers’ best friend. Hopefully, some of the past misguided directives and budget cuts could be replaced with a significant improvement in private sector participation. After all, agriculture governance is too important to leave to government alone.