Dar’s challenge in agriculture
FILIPINO WORLDVIEW (The Philippine Star) - August 9, 2019 - 12:00am

Our agricultural development to date has been driven by the desire to find the holy grail of self-sufficiency in our staples of rice and corn. I think it is time that our planners accept that this was never going to be possible given our land features and climatic conditions. And now globalization and climate change has made this goal even more irrational and unattainable. What’s worse is that this has kept us from devoting more attention to high value crops with greater market potential and, hence, income opportunities for farmers.

It is appropriate that I describe the dire situation of Philippine agriculture in terms of growth rates and to compare ourselves to our five regional neighbors in terms of global food security. 

I congratulate President Duterte for appointing Willie Dar as the secretary of agriculture. He is neither a politician nor a gentleman farmer, but is an experienced professional with an admirable track record. When he was secretary from 1998-1999, agriculture posted a 9.6 percent growth rate. His approach is simple and tested successfully during his 15-year stint with Indian-based ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics). To paraphrase a Clinton campaign slogan, “Its food security, stupid” – not self-sufficiency. Food security means having the means to access sufficient, affordable food. As he was quoted in a recent interview “when agricultural development progresses, through modernizing and good governance, the Philippines can begin to have food that is sufficient and accessible to everyone. When workers in the agri-industry are well-compensated and gain purchasing power, they are able to buy food and at the same time sufficient food supplies will drive prices down.”

Following is Sec. Dar’s vision for our country’s agricultural sector.

 “To realize the vision of a food-secure Philippines and to double the income of farmers and fisherfolk, I propose a strategy built around eight paradigms that also make up the “new thinking” for agriculture. The eight paradigms are:

1. Modernization of agriculture

Modernization and the use of modern technology must also cover all crops, including those with export potential in processed or value-added form like coffee, cacao, cassava, tropical fruits, rubber, among others, requiring the diversification of crop production. About 80 percent of the country’s farmlands are devoted to only three crops: rice, corn, and coconut.

Agripreneurship should also form part of the paradigm to modernize Philippine agriculture, as farming and fisheries should be treated as business undertakings or industries.

Affordable and accessible credit must be provided to agricultural stakeholder to help drive the industrialization of Philippine agriculture.

The Rice Tariffication Law (Republic Act 11203) is a good example of the strong desire of government to help the rice farmers modernize and be more competitive.  RA 11203 stipulates the investment of P10 billion annually from 2019 to 2024 for rice farm mechanization, propagation of high-yielding seeds, credit support, and training and capacity building of farmers.

2. Industrialization of agriculture is key

Agriculture must be treated as an industry, with the objective of industrializing the value chain of every agricultural commodity. While productivity increase is a major objective, it is equally important to produce more income by value adding, processing, manufacturing, and developing markets for both raw and processed agricultural products.

There is also a need to engage the private sector in setting up more agri-based industries and developing markets for agriculture products along with the government and agriculture smallholders. Philippine agriculture should also create the framework for the digitization of farming and agribusiness.

3. Promotion of exports is a necessity

The country should have a systematic and long-term strategy in developing and promoting exports of raw and processed agricultural products. This would require achieving economies of scale in on-farm production that would generate sustained quantity and quality of export products.

At present, the Philippines only has two agricultural products that earn at least $1 billion per year in export receipts: bananas and coconut products (mostly in oil form). Thailand has 13 types of farm exports earning over $1 billion each year, Indonesia has five, and Vietnam has seven.

4. Consolidation of small- and medium-sized farms

The government must promote and support land consolidation arrangements to bring about economies of scale, particularly for crops that require mechanization and massive use of technology. These schemes include block farming, trust farming, contract farming, and corporative farming that will make farming more efficient, where technology is used, where cost of production is reduced, and farm productivity and incomes are increased.

5. Roadmap development

The government, through the Department of Agriculture, should take the lead in generating the “big ideas” for the roadmap, and should solicit inputs from the private sector.

The roadmap should also actively involve the private sector, which may have more access to the export markets and funding for research for development.

The roadmap should also have a value-chain approach to level up Philippine agriculture, while making sure the smallholders get a fair share along the value chain.

6. Infrastructure development

Agriculture areas need infrastructure development to improve their linkages to the urban/domestic and export markets. Thus, a Build Build Build program is also a must for agriculture, which should include engaging the private sector in a build and transfer scheme also covering national irrigation systems.

7. Higher budget and investment for Philippine agriculture

The increased budget will help unlock the bigger potential contribution of agriculture and agribusiness to the economy, including more employment opportunities.

8. Legislative support is needed

The country’s agriculture sector needs the help of both the Senate and the House of Representatives for policy and structural reforms that need to be legislated and institutionalized.

President Duterte can also certify urgent legislative measures for agricultural and rural development.

Willie Dar does not expect instant gratification, he is aware that the above paradigms mandate a journey that is well-planned and monitored.

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