Hope for a reinvigorated agriculture sector
BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - January 17, 2019 - 12:00am

There could be hope for the country’s agriculture sector if we can take the finance secretary’s yearend statement that the President will prioritize raising farm productivity and rural incomes during the rest of his six-year term, which translates to a good three years.

A good public relations campaign that comes to my mind would be seeing the President regularly visiting farms and personally introducing new techniques and ways of farming that would raise the consciousness of our dwindling number of farmers and give them hope.

Of course, all this would have to be supported by solid work from our government workers and officials in the agriculture sector, as well as truly effective laws that would support farm and fisheries development and reinvigorate the countryside.

So much work needs to be done, and the job would be half done if we see the same commitment and conviction from the President that the nation had witnessed since he assumed office in 2016, like a war on poverty after the war against drugs.

So where should the government start in resuscitating the agricultural sector from which about 30 percent of the population depends for its livelihood? How do we rescue what was once a major contributor to the country’s productivity, but has now been emaciated to just bringing in nine percent of economic output?

Believing in people

Eleven million Filipinos are directly employed in the agriculture sector – rice, vegetable and fruit farmers, fishermen, livestock raisers, and all the people who bring the goodies from their original source to our tables.

This food network could benefit a lot from a major heave-ho focused on improving efficiency. But it will need a lot of patience because, it’s true, introducing change is not the easiest job – even for the most devoted change agent.

But believing that this army of 11 million people in the agri sector can change to make their lives more productive gives off a certain magic. It has always amazed me that Filipinos, even those who belong to the poorest of the poor, take to technology like ducks to water.

Just as every Juan has learned to use a mobile phone to text, and to navigate a smartphone and Facebook or any of those popular social media apps, our farmers, fishermen, and livestock raisers can learn to incorporate technology that will improve their productivity.

The trick now is to make sure that every government personnel involved in the agri sector will truly be vibrant change agents that will inspire their wards to transform the way they work, and in the process, improve their lives.

This kind of movement is necessary to achieve that much-talked about inclusiveness in this country of 105 million people where more than 50 percent are still considered belonging to the poverty level.

A ‘little’ more help

Of course, aside from our indefatigable core of change agents who should never get tired or give up, the necessary hardware has to be delivered. This includes the feeder roads that will link farms to markets, cold storages, farm implements, and all the gizmos that the agriculture sector needs for increased yields at lower input costs.

Let’s not forget the irrigation network that will bring precious water to make produce grow. This is integral to rice, vegetable and fruit farms, and fishponds – and the country’s food self-sufficiency.

It’s time to talk about mechanization of farms – using tillers, threshers, dryers, and all those machines and equipment that will help boost farm productivity and income while at the same time maximizing the use of precious agriculture land.

There must be a new regime that would encourage banks to invest in the agriculture ventures of small landowners. Our farm workers will need the money to buy the tools they should be using in their fields.

Being a country exposed to typhoons and other natural disasters, mitigation is the key to proofing the agri sector from losses, or at least minimizing the damage that a big storm or tidal wave can inflict. This should include a working insurance system where those who suffer losses can be compensated quickly, not after a year.

Total rethink

Just as important would be our lawmakers’ role. Let’s accept the fact that the land reform law that was supposed to emancipate our farmers stinks, and that after decades, has only discouraged farmers’ children to rely on the land for their future livelihood.

A procession of badly crafted laws for the agricultural sector has, unfortunately, only led to the continuing decrease in the contribution of farms and fisheries to the gross domestic productivity, now at less than nine percent of total economic activity.

It is also time to revisit the restrictive concept of land ownership for foreign investors willing to go into agriculture. The experience of other countries that do not restrict foreign companies from owning land tells us that this is not the same as selling the country.

Finally, we must believe that food self-sufficiency is the key to maintaining domestic harmony. Particularly with rice, importation must be seem as a stop-gap measure to be resorted to only during times of crisis.

We have had numerous lessons in the past that have taught us that rice is too precious a commodity to be left to the discretion of countries that also regard it as a staple food for their people, and will not have any qualms cutting off exports when their food security is at stake.

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Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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