A more approachable DA

A more approachable DA

Talking with the top officials of specific agriculture subsectors provides valuable insights required for governance and competence.

Philip Young, the newly appointed head of the proposed Department of Agriculture’s (DA) export development unit, founded Global Food Solutions, which exports to more than 40 countries. Last April 26, the company won three awards at a national Department of Trade and Industry-sponsored food competition.

Young recently had a one-on-one meeting with Paul Cuyegkeng, the former innovative head of Dole Asia. Cuyegkeng is now the chairman and owner of Sumifru Philippines, a globally recognized agriculture company involved in exporting produce, such as banana.


Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel, Jr. advocates significant private sector participation in governance. He has recruited the best in both the industry and farmer and fisherfolk sectors for senior management in the department.


From the business sector comes experienced managers like Young, who was also an executive committee member of the Agrifisheries Alliance, which is composed of the Alyansa Agrikultura, the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food, Inc., and the science-based Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines.

Banana sector

Young received from Cuyegkeng three new recommendations for the banana sector. Banana is our second most valuable agriculture export, next only to coconut.

While our coconut exports doubled from $1.3 billion in 2019 to $2.6 billion in 2022, our banana exports was cut in half from $2 billion to $1.1 billion.

Young earlier reported that the DA’s primary response to this decline was the proposed creation of a task force with an initial P300 million budget to combat the fusarium disease. Cuyegkeng suggested three new recommendations.

Cuyegkeng thought the task force should be expanded to address other critical banana diseases. He believed a much lower budget with targeted municipal action would be a more effective approach.


A second and more important action also has to be taken. If market access is lost, what good would the first initiative be? We cannot compete if our banana tariffs are much higher than our competitors’.


For Korea, our tariff is 30 percent, while Vietnam’s is 6 percent. It is already zero percent for Columbia and Central America (ie. Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama). After a very long negotiation, we succeeded in getting a gradual reduction to zero percent, but this could only be implemented after five years.

Sure, we can survive because of our produce’s superior quality. The Senate, however, must ratify this immediately, or we will completely lose the Korea market.

For Japan, our major competition will come from Vietnam and Cambodia. From now until 2028, our tariffs will remain at 13 percent. Cambodia is already at zero percent, while Vietnam’s 12 percent will become zero percent by 2028.

Our President must consider talking to Japan’s prime minister for an immediate reduction of our tariffs to level the playing field.


The third insight Cuyegkeng brought up was the need for more land.

Cambodia will have 30,000 hectares of new banana plantation in three years. What is available to us is the underutilized land of our indigenous peoples (IPs). Using that land will also vastly improve the IP’s economic condition.

But without government help, convincing IPs (on a case-to-case basis) will take too long.

Our government should work proactively to improve this slow process. They can help the IPs get the best arrangement, therefore achieving a win-win solution for both our economic and social development.

Talking with the top guys enables government to get valuable information, and therefore enables better decisions. The current leadership is already doing this process with the business and farmer-fisherfolk sectors. If this is hastened, agriculture transformation will be achieved.

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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 is [email protected]

TAGS: Agriculture, column, Commentary

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