Agri’s catch-up strategy
BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - August 15, 2019 - 12:00am

William Dar, acting agriculture secretary, could be the economic team’s best catch-up answer for the agriculture sector this year, and perhaps, until the end of President Duterte’s term.

Highly recommended by Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, Dar is regarded as a career officer, having started as a director of the Philippine Bureau of Agricultural Research, then director of the Philippine Council for Agricultural Research and Development, and briefly as acting agriculture secretary during the presidency of Joseph Estrada.

His biggest achievement can be considered his 15-year stint at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), an international organization specializing in agricultural research for rural development.

For first impressions, going through readings about Dar, his goal of gradually achieving a high-of-4-percent growth for Philippine agriculture by 2022 would seem conservative for a man of his experience, and considering that the sector was able to achieve a 3.9 percent growth in 2017.

On the other hand, looking at the last 10 years, the country’s agricultural sector had been averaging only 1.1 percent a year, and did not even reach one percent last year. Dar noted that the primary reason for this would be the low income that farmers get from the land.

‘New thinking’

As such, a large part of his agenda for the next two and half years would be to double the income of farmers by adhering to a “new thinking” that incorporates eight paradigms: modernization, industrialization, promotion of exports, farm consolidation, roadmap development, infrastructure development, higher budget and investment, and legislative support.

Dar talks about making things happen through private sector buy-in in agri-based industries, farm entrepreneurship and farmer empowerment, value-chain building, local government involvement, crop diversification, exportation, and many more.

Hearing him talk about a big picture gives some kind of reassurance that management of the country’s agricultural sector is in good hands, at least for the next 24-plus months that the Duterte administration is around.

Time constraints

It will be an uphill climb, definitely challenging times for the Ilocos Sur-born new appointee of the President, who will take over from Emmanuel Piñol, a trusted ally of the President who is now Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) chairman.

As Dar himself noted, weather disturbances and the worsening effects of climate change are a force that cannot be easily dealt with. He also highlighted the fact that the country’s farming population is one that is ageing fast.

Dar inherits, too, a bureaucracy that is lethargic and demoralized from past scams, definitely a people problem that needs time to sort out. DA’s 17,000 agricultural extension workers, for example, need retraining and a new mindset to become more effective.

Unfortunately, Dar has little time and his best option would be to round up the best officers and staff into a hard core that hopefully will be able to quickly start snowballing change.

More than all these, the political calendar leaves him with less than three years to work, and even at a feverish pace. Empowering and enlightening people take time.

Agricultural value chain

Still, it is impressive that in less than a week since Dar assumed the Department of Agriculture position, a promising partnership with the private sector have been inked to jumpstart the idea of prototyping an agricultural value chain.

The DA, through its Agricultural Credit Policy Council (ACPC), is now in partnership with the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship-Go Negosyo, Kennemer Foods International, Inc., and Agronomika Finance Corp. (AFC) in this first value-chain pilot project.

This will be based in Davao where both AFC and Kennemer are presently operating. AFC has a track record of lending to small farmers and rural entrepreneurs, while Kennemer has an established grower program with cacao, banana, and abaca farmers.

Go Negosyo is recognized nationwide for its capacity building capabilities, and would be a great help in schooling farmer organizations in entrepreneurship and organizational management.

One pilot project, however, is not enough. Having more of this, and scattered in other agriculture regions should be much, much better given the scope of work that needs to be done and the time constraints. There are so many in the private sector just waiting to be tapped and given directions.

On rice tariffication

Lastly, our rice farmers need some urgent help. The task at hand demands the set up of a working framework that will maximize the distribution of farm tools to modernize rice farms, distribution of high-yielding rice varieties, training and credit support within the next 12 months, and will be replicated until the end of the P60-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund.

The Rice Tariffication Law that liberalized importation of rice should be considered as a means to bring mechanization and improved rice yields to farmers so that they may be able to compete better with Vietnam and Thailand.

Dar cited the cost of producing palay (unhusk rice) in the Philippines at P12.72 per kilo, compared to Vietnam’s P6.22 and Thailand’s P8.86, which says a lot why Filipino rice farmers are sinking deeper into poverty. We agree with the good Secretary that bringing down the cost of producing palay to P3 per kilo would definitely be something to look forward to.

The brimming optimism of the new DA Secretary is unmistakably loud. We wish him the best of health so he can keep up the energy level to produce miracles, and that we may soon see the day when Filipino farmers can comfortably feed their children and send them to school, and know that their children will also one day return to farming.

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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.

RICE TARIFFICATION WILLIAM DAR
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