New approaches needed

New approaches needed

To achieve our agriculture transformation, new approaches are needed.

Last March 27, this was the consensus of six leaders of the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization of the Philippines (Camp). This represents the science and academe component of the Agriculture Fisheries Alliance. The other two components are from farmers and fisherfolk (Alyansa Agrikultura) and agribusiness (Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc.-PCAFI).

Leading the discussion was chair Emil Javier, national scientist, former University of the Philippines president and former science and technology minister. The other leaders were Camp president Eufemio Rasco, Dolores Ramirez, Roger Cuyno, Ruben Villareal and Violeta Villegas. Each is either a national scientist, a former chancellor, or a former institute head.


Agriculture gaps: The previous Department of Agriculture (DA) leadership had done commendable work, but improvements still have to be done. The DA budget has averaged 2 percent of the total budget, compared with Vietnam’s 7 percent. Worse, for 2019, 2020 and 2021, the Commission on Audit consistently reported that a disastrous one-third of this already small budget had been squandered in unliquidated and unexplained expenses.


READ: Low agri budget for 2024: Group says it shows farming not priority

The current budget does not address key gaps in our agriculture governance. Two of these are in information and economies of scale. On DA’s P202-billion budget this year, less than P30 million was allocated for information for agriculture and marketing service. Only P145 million was provided for the consolidation and clustering for farmers and fisherfolk, to attain economies of scale.

The current leadership is now addressing these inherited gaps with decisive action and strong political will. However, in addition to these, the CAMP leaders suggest 10 game-changing initiatives. They emphasize that farmers and fisherfolk must be partners, get their just share and not be left behind again. Here are two such initiatives.

1. Coconut-coffee towns: We currently import more than 70 percent of our coffee. Our average coffee yield is 600 kilos per hectare, compared with Vietnam’s two tons. But by just doing basic pruning, weeding and fertilization, yield can easily increase to one ton.

Two million out of our 3.5 million coconut hectares have nothing planted in between them, where coffee can be grown. An immediate objective is to have import substitution of 100,000 coffee tons a year. First, DA selects 100 towns with already existing coffee orchards under coconut trees. With DA support, the relevant mayors can each identify 1,000 hectares for this initiative. This results in the 100,000-ton target.

DA should then mobilize groups like the Philippine Coffee Board, Nestle, state universities and colleges (SUCs), and Land Bank to act as a team. They will help provide good seedlings, proper training, buying stations and the needed financing for these coconut-coffee towns.


2. Mango districts: Though our mangos are the best in the world, we are now losing our market share. This is because we have not given the needed support that other countries give their farmers.

For example, Vietnam announced early on that they would be a major global coffee player. They followed this up by identifying specific areas and giving full government support. Today, we import 80 percent of our coffee from them.

Aside from learning from other countries, we should also learn from our own globally competitive banana and pineapple producers. They concentrate on specific production areas organized around packing houses and processing plants. We must do the same by organizing mango districts with the same characteristics, using economies of scale.

Local governments play a critical role for these mango districts. They must invite fruit processors and exporters to invest, facilitate effective contact growing schemes so there is no pole-vaulting, encourage SUCs to give technical assistance, and get Landbank and their own rural banks to provide the necessary financing. This kind of public-private initiative is already being implemented in Batangas, where Gov. Hermilando Mandanas is working closely with Batangas Forum’s Cristanto Gualberto.

These are only two of the new innovative approaches for us to leapfrog to meaningful agriculture development. From what we have observed in the impressive results-driven performance of the current DA leadership, we believe this kind of innovation will soon be seen. INQ

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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 [email protected].

TAGS: agriculture development, agriwatch, DA budget

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