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Sparking a new agri revolution

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - April 15, 2021 - 12:00am

As the National Capital Region and its surrounding environs (collectively now known as NCR Plus) continue to hunker down in an attempt to pull back infection levels, life outside the bubble in many rural areas continue to enviably bustle with normal work, even if people have imbibed the habit of wearing face masks when outside the home.

No wonder that the agricultural sector, minus the swine industry, looks to continue to post growth while the manufacturing and services sectors expect to wallow again in double-digit contraction during this year’s first quarter and until quarantine levels are further relaxed.

Of course, agricultural growth could even have been more vibrant if not for some farmlands still recovering from the devastation from the last quarter 2020’s typhoons, the wasted culling of pigs that died of the African swine flu, and more importantly, the pullback in demand for food by a substantial number of families affected by loss of jobs.

Paddy rice harvest concluded in December showed a record 11.1 million tons, and the same success levels could be expected this current planting season as favorable weather and improving irrigation systems collude to make this possible.

Similar strides, even if small, are being seen in other agricultural sectors like corn, fisheries, fruits, vegetables, sugar, coconut, and poultry. As such, the Department of Agriculture (DA) is confident that – barring any major disrupting incidents – the country can expect a stable flow of food supplies the whole year.

Of course, much still has to be accomplished if Philippine agriculture cannot just continuously assure our countrymen of continued food supply at reasonable prices for years to come, but also contribute significantly to national productivity through increasing export earnings.

‘New thinking’ and ‘One DA’

For decades now, the Philippines has struggled to bring life back to its agriculture sector. The country has not lacked for legislative initiatives to resuscitate rice and corn production, encourage high value crop farming, and provide tariff protection for the livestock sector, among others.

Unfortunately, loopholes in the law, administrative weaknesses, and an overall lackluster view of the role and importance of agriculture in the national economic development have contrived to constrict the growth and contribution of farming and fishing to the country.

William Dar’s appointment to the agriculture department is slowly bringing about change with his “new thinking” approach that puts emphasis on food security for the country while never for a moment neglecting the more important aspect of bringing profitability back to farms and farming households.

With the recent “One DA” call, Dar has vowed to transform the country’s agricultural sector by mobilizing the bureaucracy, in both local and national government levels, to introduce the latest knowledge, modern technologies, and timely financial interventions to ensure continued and sustainable growth.

The clear and methodical steps espoused by the approach and call seems to have galvanized and revitalized what had been decried as one of the biggest, but least energetic agencies in government. While the DA had been able to raise its budgetary appropriation this year, it needs more to get to stable ground.

Exciting times

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen brilliant bursts of enthusiasm (the last being in the ‘70s when the DA, then called Ministry of Agriculture under Bong Tanco), not just among agricultural extension workers on the ground, but also among farmers, students, and businessmen.

We are in for exciting times, especially for those who have become enlightened about the renewed potential of the land to bear fruit and generate earnings to support a decently comfortable life.

A nationwide movement of students in agriculture has coalesced to bring about change mainly by using modern tools and harnessing recently made available start-up entrepreneurship funds, two ingredients that have received huge support through the DA’s new thinking.

This could bring the much needed spark that would induce a wave of change in farms, especially those that are still being managed by small farmers who lack the drive to learn new knowledge and technologies, and adapt to change.

The Philippine Rural Development Project (PRDP) has taken good root in development work by introducing a commendable planning framework supporting value chains and incentives for local governments to formulate and implement investment plans to achieve agreed agricultural targets.

This should further strengthen food supply chains and give small farmers the chance to go directly to market, improve their earning capability, and ultimately expand their production.

Let us never forget that the Philippines cannot successfully transition from middle- to high-income status without achieving the effective transformation of its agricultural food systems.

Stop gap measure

With pork importation rules recently eased as a stop-gap measure to fill in the continued diminishing production of local swine affected by ASF and to curb inflation, strict adherence to price ceilings and other measures on imported pork parts must be observed to protect local swine growers.

The move assures there will be enough pork supply for the country at affordable prices, thus helping bring down high prices during the last five months, while providing some form of relief to households whose spending had been battered by reduced incomes because of the quarantines.

Finally, as Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon warned, transparency in the pork importation process must be ensured to keep corruption away.

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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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