Agriculture is dying in the Philippines

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman - The Philippine Star

Agriculture is dying. This is a sad reality of the country.

Agricultural land is being developed into industrial areas, shopping malls and subdivisions. Farmers are growing old and their children have shifted into other careers. The agriculture industry has not progressed in ages. Many of our agricultural schools are producing office-oriented workers who would much rather do paper work than help improve the agricultural sector of the country. Not to mention the many horror stories of corruption at the Department of Agriculture.    

Even if the Philippines is primarily an agricultural country, we have not done anything to ‘cultivate’ this sector. In the sixties, we were ahead in Asia. Students from different countries came here to study agriculture and its technology. But what happened? They are now better than us. Somehow, we lost in the race.

Yes, we have been blessed with different kinds of bodies of water, lands that are lush and fertile, and a climate that is favorable in growing various kinds of high valued crops and raising livestock, poultry and other farm animals. But due to economic industrialization, this industry has been challenged. Our priorities have changed almost forgetting our fundamental need for survival. And according to reports, the agricultural sector employs only 25.96 percent of the Filipino workers as of November 2017. This is very low compared to many countries who prioritize and give more importance to it.

Agriculture plays an important role in the country’s economy. This is measured as the value added of the agricultural sector as percent of GDP. According to the World Bank data from 1960 to 2016, the average value for the Philippines during the period was 21.36 percent with a minimum of 9.65 percent in 2016 and a maximum of 31.06 percent in 1974. This shows a sad truth that the percent of GDP (value added) contributed from the agriculture sector continues to decrease. Although people still think of the Philippines as an agricultural economy, strictly speaking, and based on the data, this is not the case.

The farmers lack support, training and a moral boost. First, they lack basic skills in farming. Many are not educated or are only elementary graduates. Second, good fertilizers, pesticides and seeds are imported from other countries, making them very expensive and unaffordable for the lowly farmer. Third, the government has not developed a good infrastructure for farmers (i.e. farm-to-market roads, irrigation system, drying facilities and milling centers, etc.). Fourth, most of our farmers do not own the land they till. They cannot maximize the use of the land that results in low income. And since they are just tenants, some landowners require a 50-50 share of the product, thus leaving only half of the produce to the farmers. Fifth, farmers have difficulty in financing their farming endeavors due to the high rates of borrowing institutions. And when harvest time arrives, the money from the sale is only enough to pay their debts and nothing is left for them. Sixth, farmers lack protection from the middlemen who take advantage of their weaknesses. The middlemen buy their products at a very low cost and the Department of Agriculture always seems to be turning a blind eye on these culprits.

During the Innovation Olympics 2018 held at the 8 Waves Resorts in Bulacan last April, East-West Seeds Philippines general manager Henk Hermans said that farmers represent the second poorest sector in the country. This has resulted in the young people’s disenchantment in pursuing a career in agriculture. He noted that the average age of Filipino farmers is 57-59 years old and therefore there is a great need to encourage the youth to engage in crop production to ensure the country’s food security. He also pointed out that our farming practices are outdated, and majority of the farmers are reluctant to use modern technology in farming, making their work labor intensive and unsustainable.

The government has recognized the declining contribution of the agricultural sector in the country’s GDP and this drop in its performance is attributed to its vulnerability towards extreme weather events (drought and typhoons), infestations (coconut scale insects), and poor adoption of high-yielding varieties at the end of the farmers. The restricted crop production diversification of farms particularly concentrating on rice, corn, and sugarcane impedes the optimization of the land potential. Other longstanding issues such as the limited access to credit and insurance, low farm mechanization and inadequate postharvest facilities, inadequate irrigation, limited support R & D, weak extension service, ageing farmers, agrarian reform, limited connection between production area and markets, poor compliance with product standards, competing land use, and weak institutions have also been recognized. But we need action!

The Philippine Development Plan for 2017-2022 seeks to: expand economic opportunities for those who are engaged in agriculture; increase access to economic opportunities for small farmers. Based on the legislative agenda, the development plan supports the following strategies to: abolish irrigation service fees for small farmers; comprehensive Forestry Law and delineation of Specific Forest Limits; amend the revised chapter of the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation to increase capital stock; amend Presidential Decree No. 4 series of 1972 to separate the regulatory and propriety functions of the National Food Authority; amend the Agriculture Tarrification Act of 1996; provide guidelines for the utilization of coco levy fund; pass the National Land Use Act to protect prime agricultural lands; and genuine and comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program to distribute for free without amortization agricultural lands to landless farmers and agricultural workers (NEDA, 2017). So, what gives?

Last year the Department of Agriculture had a budget allocation of P46 billion. This year the budget is P60.6 billion. Next year, it is expected to go up to P124 billion. Yes, the DA has the budget but they don’t seem to have the brains and the balls to get things going. They continue to point fingers on the past administrators. Every Agriculture Secretary has a reason for the season. Sanamagan! Just do it!

UPLB Center for Technology Entrepreneurship executive director Glenn Baticados said that agriculture today is more than just a farmer simply planting a crop, growing livestock, or catching fish. He said, “It takes an ecosystem and several actors to work together to produce and deliver the food we need. It is this dynamic and complex ecosystem that will equip agriculture to cope with the competing challenges of addressing food safety and food security, creating inclusive livelihoods, mitigating climate change and sustainably managing natural resources.”

Agriculture constitutes the foundation of food security. As such, it is imperative that all concerned bodies work together, innovate continuously, collaborate in research and development to meet future challenges in agriculture.

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