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Business

Agriculture deserves priority and focus

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa - The Philippine Star

The country’s agricultural sector needs to come up with a more definitive role in these “new normal” times. Agriculture has been pinpointed, together with infrastructure, as integral to the Philippines’ recovery plan for the next six months, and even going through the next couple of years.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) has recently put on the table a P66-billion stimulus plan for the agricultural sector to mitigate the effect of  the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19, while at the same time introducing needed reforms to strengthen supply links from farms to markets.

This amount is on top of the P64.7 billion budget allocation for this year as approved by Congress, and the P8.7 billion released by the Department of Budget and Management specific to supporting rice resiliency during the months that major parts of the country were in lockdown.

Unfortunately, the additional P66 billion that the DA is asking will likely not be given; the Department of Finance has already put a cap on any additional spending that would support an extension of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act passed by Congress as a response to the adverse economic effects of the quarantines.

Should Congress approve the proposed standby fund of P140 billion when it resumes sessions in late July, only P17 billion is earmarked for the DA, which would be given to affected fishers and farmers as cash subsidies and a zero-interest loan program, and the rest to fund the DA’s Plant, Plant, Plant program.

Coherent and purposeful program needed

Money, or the lack of it, however, is not the only problem. In past columns, we had consistently called attention to the inadequate responses of the DA in reshaping the agriculture sector as an important contributor to economic growth.

It’s been a vicious cycle of incompetence, manifested by leaderships with inadequate vision, incoherent and off-tangent programs, and a bureaucracy that has lost its sense of relevance and vitality. Nothing has quite worked out for the DA, which explains how it has manifested a diminishing value to the economy and its immediate stakeholders in the last half-century.

Embarrassingly, too, the DA has been a hotbed of corruption during many administrations. Year in and year out, money allocated to its programs have slipped through the parched earth and fallen into pockets of greedy politicians, instead of to poor farmers, fishers, and livestock growers.

Productivity in the agriculture sector has become so diminished with antiquated methods, a high cost of production, unavailable financing, and laws that may be well meant but generally ineffective.

PPP’s lofty goals

The DA’s recently launched Plant, Plant, Plant (PPP) program seems to echo the current administration’s ambitious flagship infrastructure Build Build Build (BBB) program. It will, however, definitely cost much less than the P8.7 trillion budgeted for BBB, but could have the same effect.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar has expressed the rebooting and reforming of Philippine agriculture as key to an agriculture that is modern and technology-based, one that will eradicate subsistence agriculture, and will be inclusive and market-oriented.

One of his initiatives includes a mentoring program for the youth in agriculture where 1,000 on-the-job trainees will be hired and farmed out for seven months. There’s also a business incubation in agriculture program, where grants as high as P500,000 are given to young people in agriculture to turn their ideas into a proof of concept.

For returning overseas Filipino workers interested in farming or agri-business, an agri-negosyo program is available, where a micro-enterprise can borrow from P300,000 to P10 million at zero interest and payable in five years.

New credit opportunities will be available to farmers and fishers, who can borrow as much as P25,000 at zero interest and payable in 10 years.

Other specific programs

For the food logistics program proposal, P15 billion will be needed. P1.8 billion will go to expanding extension support to the provincial local government units, P1 billion to strengthen the price monitoring and enforcement system, P1 billion for an agricultural and fisheries commodity exchange system, P1 billion for digital agriculture, and P200 million for communication support.

To directly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, P31 billion is needed. P8 billion will go to rice buffer stocking, and P8.24 billion for a rice resiliency program during the dry season. P1.75 billion will be invested in an integrated livestock and corn resiliency program, P1 billion for an expanded coconut-based diversification project, and P1.2 billion for a fisheries resiliency project. P2 billion will go to farmers and fishers directly affected by the pandemic, and P2 billion will fund an expanded agriculture insurance project.

P1 billion each will go to a direct producer-to-market program and an expanded small ruminants and poultry program. P300 million is needed to enhance white corn production for food resiliency, P500 million for an urban agriculture project, P billion for a revitalized vegetable production project, P 500 million for a sustained information, education and communication project, and P3 billion for a social amelioration program for farmers and fishers.

Best way out

All the above, plus more, will need money. Agriculture, at the moment, deserves priority and focus. 

In total, the P66 billion may seem to be an amount too burdensome for a government that is scrounging around for every centavo to get the economy past a survival mode. We can look at this as pay back time for all past actions of neglect, or we can see it as one of the best ways out in a “new normal” world.

Facebook and Twitter

We are actively using two social networking websites to reach out more often and even interact with and engage our readers, friends and colleagues in the various areas of interest that I tackle in my column. Please like us on www.facebook.com/ReyGamboa and follow us on www.twitter.com/ReyGamboa.

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 [email protected]. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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