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There is hope for Philippine agriculture

August 15, 2019

There is hope for Philippine agriculture 1
DR. WILLIAM DAR

Second of three parts

On my very first day as acting Agriculture secretary on August 5, I immediately communicated to the ranks of the Department of Agriculture (DA) my priorities for the next 100 days.

And I believe the 15 priority concerns contained in that are very timely as the agriculture sector contracted by 1.27 percent in the second quarter of this year.

Looking at the figures for the sector during the same period, crop production decreased by 11.9 percent in terms of prices, which may point to the initial effects of liberalized rice imports and the subsector feeling the brunt of the El Niño or dry spell.

Definitely, there is a need to lay down the initial foundation in the next 100 days with 15 priority points, which are as follows:

1. Properly and efficiently implement of the Rice Tariffication Law, particularly the management of the P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund including formulating the Rice Industry Roadmap.

2. Craft and implement a “Crop Diversification Strategy” with corresponding fund requirements up to 2022.

3. Craft and implement a “Pantawid Magsasaka Program” that will provide continuous assistance to rice farmers affected by rice imports, and a Social Amelioration Program such as the conditional cash transfer, healthcare in coordination with the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth). If possible, also include to the Social Security System (SSS) smallholder farmers and fisherfolk as paying members, to enable them to contain external shocks and risks.

4. Enhance skills of small farmers and fisherfolk, with emphasis on entrepreneurship. This includes empowering small farmers’ and fisherfolk’s cooperatives (SFFCs), irrigators’ associations (IAs) and agrarian reform beneficiaries’ associations (ARBAs). Their ranks should also be trained on entrepreneurship and financial management, and forge agreements with major agribusiness companies to provide them business managers for training on how to profitably run their farm, fishery and agribusiness enterprises.

Furthermore, also involve secondary (consortium of cooperatives) and tertiary (national-level) cooperatives that have strong resource-pool and membership base to operate cluster farms and service-based processing facilities. This is in cognizance with DA’s accreditation of civil society organizations as partners (not only beneficiaries) in rural development.

5. Strongly implement climate change and disaster risk reduction programs, including institutionalizing early warning systems and protocols, such as typhoon and flood readiness. Also, harvesting of crops using combine harvesters and storing them in all-weather, earthquake-proof and elevated sturdy warehouses should be pursued.

6. Assist the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in strengthening its agriculture and fishery program by enhancing DA’s Halal Program from production, processing to product value addition; and develop strong linkages with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation member-countries in terms of access to market and agri-based enterprise development.

7. Introduce the “New Thinking” as the revised DA vision and mission to attain a “food-secure” Philippines teeming with prosperous farmers and fisherfolk; identify and promote “countryside heroes” that include successful farmers, fisherfolk, farmers’ and fishers’ groups; establish and strengthen a farmers and fisherfolk’s registry to serve as basis for granting social benefits from the SSS and PhilHealth, among others.

8. Sustain a massive information and communication campaign, highlighting countryside heroes. Also, secure buy-in of the New Thinking in agriculture and identify champions per sector, starting with the youth (a program of the Agricultural Training Institute), farmers (Gawad-Saka awards), farmers’ sectoral group (Municipal Agriculture and Fishery Council , and their provincial and regional counterparts); industry (through the Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries); research and development (with the Bureau of Agricultural Research [BAR] and regional/provincial and extension centers); local government units or LGUs (leagues of municipalities, cities and governors); and women’s organization (rural improvement clubs) as proactive partners.

9. Review and reorient existing DA programs and projects towards increasing productivity, competitiveness and income of farmers and fisherfolk.

10. Reshape and reprogram the budget of DA for 2020.

11. Enhance partnership with the private sector, particularly in forging contract-growing and marketing agreements, and training of SFFCs, IAs, and ARBAs on agribusiness, entrepreneurship, finance and marketing. The private groups include the Go Negosyo of Presidential Adviser Joey Concepcion, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry chaired by Henry Lim, Management Association of the Philippines, and the agribusiness units of conglomerates like San Miguel Corp., JG Summit and MVP Group of Companies, among others.

12. Strengthen the organizational structure of DA including systems and processes for efficient and effective governance. This includes energizing the provincial and municipal agriculture offices and their technicians.

13. Conduct a “Food Summit” with key stakeholders like farmers, fisherfolk, government organizations, nongovernment organizations, LGUs, private sector, state colleges and universities (SCUs), among others. SCUs should be mobilized to train farmers, fisherfolk and rural entrepreneurs, as well as lending technical assistance in extension work in close coordination with DA regional offices and the provincial LGUs. DA should provide SCUs budget for such activities.

14. Coordinate/Collaborate with the Department of Trade and Industry on price stabilization and complementation of agricultural products as well as strengthening quarantine measures against poultry and livestock diseases like the African swine fever.

15. Review restrictive and constrictive policies on agriculture, fishery, agribusiness, credit, among others. For instance, the possibility of lifting the ban on export of mature coconuts and corn.

The abovementioned need not be explained in full in this column, but the overall objective is very clear — to reinvent and reorient Philippine agriculture and guide or direct it towards the path of modernization and industrialization, with the aim of making it more productive, competitive, sustainable, resilient and inclusive. And let us not forget the aim of increasing the incomes of farmers and fisherfolk.

Compromising at this point, or not moving beyond the paradigm of placing too much emphasis on increasing crop production, could be a terrible mistake.

And let us not forget the potential impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on agriculture, unless we want to be left behind in the “technologization” of farming and fisheries.

A call for collective action

Definitely, the DA cannot do it alone, and collective action is urgently needed to take the agriculture sector out from the doldrums and to level it up.

Collective action means getting all stakeholders and actors to work towards a common goal. For this installment, let me emphasize first the critical role of the private sector and LGUs.

The private sector’s current efforts to help level up the country’s agriculture sector also needs to be leveled up, but their efforts have so far been laudable even taking the initiative in propagating a cash crops like coffee and cacao. Also, it is the private sector that is taking the lead in the export of coconut water.

If we can have more collective action toward leveling up the production of cash crops like coffee, cacao, coconut, rubber and other tropical fruits, exporting value-added products from them and getting more smallholders in the value chain, then we could see dramatic results in a few years. This approach should form the crop diversfication strategy the DA will pursue in the next few years.

LGUs, on the other hand, have been mandated by the Local Government Code of 1991 to take the lead in the delivery of agricultural extension services. Hence, the role of LGUs in leveling up at the very least crop production cannot be ignored, and upgrading the skills of municipal and provincial agricultural officers is a must. But it is still the DA that should take the lead in developing the overall strategy, with the LGUs lending support and formulating micro-strategies and complimenting projects at the local level. And the DA’s regional field units should always be there to support the LGUs.

The DA and its regional field offices, and LGUs must also explore or expand their partnerships with SCUs in the delivery of extension services and the undertaking of research and development for the communities where the SCUs are located or for a certain agricultural activity or crop.

One good example of this is the BAR establishing 21 organic research and extension centers, of which five are hosted by SCUs.

The expanded role of SCUs will also be discussed in the third installment of this series.

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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