Saving agri needs firm action on roadmaps

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa - The Philippine Star

Agriculture in the Philippines remains a lost soul, and putting the blame on being a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is not altogether accurate. We signed up to this “free trade” mantra some three decades ago and understood the ramifications it could bring if we were unprepared.

Sadly, we turned deaf and blind to all the requisites necessary to brace our agriculture sector to be competitive. Instead of an all-out support for our agriculture sector, government funds were slowly and routinely reduced in favor of other priorities, all of which unfortunately yielded little success.

How did the Philippine economy grow pre-pandemic? My unequivocal reply to this would be thanks to our overseas Filipino workers whose remittances propped up household spending for food, housing, and other necessities – yes, even from imports that were so much cheaper.

I have yet to see a true champion of Philippine agriculture in previous presidents, even the one sitting in Malacanang Palace today who blamed the WTO during his election campaign sorties as the root problem of farmers’ and fishermen’s woes.

Many countries wisely poured resources to strengthen their agriculture sectors, but up to now, all we have done is to protest what they have been doing as a foul and unfair move. Look who’s laughing all the way to the bank.

Incremental changes

To be fair, the appointment of William Dar to the Department of Agriculture has been one of the better moves of government in several decades. He may be a bit old for a job that requires youthful energy, but he has the vision and experience needed.

He has risen to the challenge of neglected years and failed stewardships with programs that have, even incrementally, allowed change to happen despite the uphill battle he faces to bring national government support for proposed interventions.

Not exactly popular for his decisions to support large-scale importation of pork at a time when the African swine fever (ASF) had almost halved local hog farm production, Dar has not been short of suggesting programs that only deserve support by the future administrations.

One of these is his focus on commodity roadmaps, a process that had been tentatively started before his time, but one which he is trying to fine tune enough to be useful, relevant, and above all, able to change, and for the sectors to achieve their goals.

Coming up with worthwhile roadmaps is a tedious process that requires the cooperation of all concerned stakeholders, even with the help of experts to provide guidance in setting goals and mapping out concrete steps on how to accomplish them.

It’s a welcome process, albeit one that has been introduced a little too late. What’s important is to stick to how it should correctly be done to bring together stakeholders in achieving shared and measureable goals.

Roadmaps will be challenged and revised

Expect roadmaps to be challenged and revised, and even if all stakeholders sign off on the document, updates and fine-tuning will be needed to keep the goals relevant.

Government support, from both national and local levels, will follow if such roadmaps make sense and are backed by a strong coalition of all the sector stakeholders. It’s time for a “people power” in the agriculture sector after waiting for decades for government to lead the way.

Until the private sector is able to muster strength in pushing for the change it wants to happen, Philippine agriculture will continue to be a lost soul.

Rethinking importations

Roadmaps are also a safeguard on food importations, one that has gotten so much undeserved flak in recent months not only because of ASF, but also from the disruptions to global supply chains of agricultural commodities.

From a pragmatic point of view, food importations are necessary when the supply-demand balance is in danger of destabilizing the economy. This happened when pig farms were afflicted by ASF, pork prices doubled and inflation shot up to uncomfortable levels.

Food importations should be time-bound, especially if the country has the potential to produce enough to supply local demand and, eventually perhaps, even look at competing in the world market through exports.

The strongest case that comes to mind is with yellow corn, which currently is not being produced in enough quantity and quality for the requirements of livestock industries. We are now importing almost the same amount that is locally available, but at higher prices because of tariff restrictions.

At current elevated world prices because of tight supplies, the country has become vulnerable to global shifts when it can be more relaxed about its effect on consumer prices of pork, chicken, eggs, and fish.

Strong roadmaps and roadmap teams, like that of the business procurement industry, are able to easily recognize developing risks and provide for prudent and acceptable approaches, including lobbying for government interventions to allow for smoother transitions.

The world, after almost two years of business discontinuity, is slowly returning to normal and it will demand unprecedented adjustments from everyone for a longer time.

The national government is trying its best to cope with the disruptions, and some of its solutions may seem detrimental to the more vulnerable sectors. Roadmaps are useful, but the ultimate test will be the determination and passion of the people who will implement the programs. A call to arms for the incoming agri officials of the new administration.

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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