August 08, 2019
WE heartily endorse President Rodrigo Duterte’s selection of Dr. William Dar as the interim secretary of Agriculture, and congratulate Dr. Dar on his appointment, which we are confident is a sign of real progress for the nation’s agriculture sector.
Dar was chosen to succeed Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, who has moved to the Mindanao Development Authority.
The same qualities that made us proud to have Dr. Dar as a columnist for The Manila Times are precisely those needed to manage the multitude of challenges faced by the agricultural sector. This is not to take anything away from former Agriculture secretary Piñol, who himself brought a practical and in many ways productive perspective to the job.
As a farmer and a former local government official, Piñol approached the management of the Department of Agriculture (DA) from a people-oriented perspective. His understanding of how policy impacts farmers and fishermen on an individual level helped to humanize agricultural policy and the activities of the DA, and that is important.
To be truly effective, however, the nation’s agriculture sector needs to be guided by a perspective that embraces not only the individual needs of farmers pursuing a livelihood, but a keen — and apolitical — understanding of agriculture’s role and potential as a national-scale industry and component of the economy. We believe Dr. Dar’s knowledge and experience provides this much-needed broad perspective.
Dr. Dar holds a doctorate in horticulture from the University of the Philippines Los Baños, and was recruited as the first director of the Bureau of Agricultural Research when it was formed in 1988. He served as presidential adviser on rural development and had a short stint as acting Agriculture secretary in the Estrada administration from 1998 to 1999, when he left to take on the role of director-general of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat).
At the time that Dr. Dar became the head of Icrisat, the multinational agricultural research institute was in crisis. Infighting among various national interests had eroded the confidence of investors and supporting governments, and the agency had gone through three directors-general in three years. Under Dr. Dar, who was director-general for an unprecedented 14 years, the management of Icrisat was stabilized and its income more than doubled, allowing it to greatly expand its research and development programs across India, Sub-Saharan Africa and other places.
After leaving Icrisat in 2014, Dr. Dar founded the Inang Lupa Movement Inc., a social volunteer group that advocates modernization and industrialization of Philippine agriculture, and has contributed a great deal of input to the direction the country’s agricultural policy and development strategy should take.
Leading the modernization of Philippine agriculture and helping to correct the economic imbalance it represents — agriculture accounts for about 30 percent of the country’s workforce, but only about 10 percent of its GDP — would be a formidable challenge under ideal circumstances, and most would describe the Philippines’ circumstances as something very much less than ideal. Dr. Dar will have to contend with competing political interests, a large bureaucracy where coordination and cooperation is often difficult, and a number of immediate contentious issues, such as the controversial rice importation program. And if that were not more than enough, he is taking on the job in the season when Philippine farms are most vulnerable to weather-related calamities.
We believe there is no other person capable of successfully managing these challenges than Dr. William Dar. We look forward to seeing what he can accomplish, and urge the rest of the government and the country’s agricultural stakeholders to give him their full support.
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