Phl agriculture: The best is coming
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - December 22, 2019 - 12:00am

The Sulong Pilipinas Agribusiness Summit recently held in Davao City was a great success, with over 500 stakeholders that include business groups and industry leaders taking part in the consultative dialogue to discuss issues relative to the agriculture sector. Initiated by the government in June 2016 even before President Duterte took over as president, Sulong Pilipinas is a series of conferences between the administration and the private sector primarily to help the government achieve its 10-point socioeconomic agenda, whose primary objective is to uplift the lives of Filipinos and cut down poverty to 14 percent by the end of President Duterte’s term in 2022.

Spearheaded by the Department of Finance and in collaboration with the Department of Trade and Industry as well as the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank of the Philippines), the 10th edition of Sulong Pilipinas saw the private sector engaging in a productive dialogue with government on how to make the economy truly inclusive, with recommendations on identified priorities that can serve as guidelines in formulating policy and needed reforms.

Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez called on industry leaders to “think out of the box” and propose “bold ideas” that would help energize the agriculture sector, which has been dubbed as a “sleeping giant” that has great potential to contribute to the country’s overall economic growth. 

Unfortunately, agriculture has been weak for several decades especially after 1989. This weakness has prevented the country’s economy from accelerating to a full gallop, noted Secretary Dominguez, adding that its growth has only averaged 1.1 percent in the last decade. At the very least, the sector needs to grow at an annual rate of 2 percent to help achieve stable food prices and catch up with – if not be ahead of – the annual population growth rate of 1.7 percent. 

Saying the country benefits from “a political leadership that does not fear change,” the Finance chief urged everyone that now is the time to “break out from the structures that trapped so many Filipinos in poverty for so long.”

The Philippine embassy in Washington D.C., through our hardworking Agriculture Attaché Dr. Josyline Javelosa, has been working continuously to increase access for the country’s agricultural products to the US. There has been growing interest among US firms on Philippine agricultural products that include coffee, calamansi and okra. In fact, the Philippine embassy team has been engaged in talks with US officials, in particular the Department of Agriculture, on how these products can enter the US market. 

Meantime, the Philippines has been expanding its export of bananas, mangoes and young coconut, with the coconut products gaining a lot of attention during the first DC Filipino Food Festival held at the District Pier at The Wharf in Washington, D.C. last July that attracted over 12,000 visitors.

 One major challenge is how to make the agriculture sector more attractive and viable for young “agripreneurs.” Fortunately, there are many young Filipinos and Filipino-Americans like Elvin Laceda who are thinking out-of-the-box to help empower farmers through technology. Elvin worked with other Filipinos studying in the US to develop an app that would help Filipino farmers directly communicate with potential consumers and the market. 

The app won second place in the “Great Ideas Competition” of Brigham Young University, and from the prize money, the young man founded RiceUp, a social enterprise project that is helping farmers increase their earnings from $70 a month to as much as $700 a month. RiceUp also started a farm school where farmers are trained on self-development and profitable farming. Just recently, some 180 farmers from Davao graduated from the farm school, with 200 more also enrolled. 

In 2020, the best is yet to come, with the Philippine economy continuing to be promising despite external headwinds, with growth expected at 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent until 2022 according to Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernie Pernia. The Asian Development Bank also sees growth accelerating in the last quarter of this year and throughout 2020. A recent report by Nomura Global Markets Research says the Philippines is an exception in the region that has been affected by the US-China trade war, with the country poised for a “V-shaped pickup, as fiscal policy is becoming more expansionary, led by strong public sector investment spending.”

Even the country’s online economy is flourishing according to the latest report from iPrice Group, a meta-search website, in collaboration with mobile data and analytics platform App Annie. According to the iPrice report, top e-commerce platforms are fueling the country’s online economy, growing between 20 percent to 30 percent from $2 billion in 2015 to $7 billion in 2019, and projected to reach $25 billion in 2025.   

“The Philippines is already ripe for further growth, especially since it’s ranked among the top 10 countries in the world by mobile internet usage and most time spent online, according to We Are Social and Hootsuite’s annual digital research. This growth may be fueled by the rising e-commerce platforms and activities in the country,” the report noted. 

The internet population in the Philippines is one of the fastest growing in the world, with a growth rate estimated at 530 percent in the last five years. The Department of Trade and Industry also launched the Philippines E-Commerce Roadmap 2016-2020, the country’s first on e-commerce. DTI has been very proactive, with Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez expressing optimism that e-commerce transactions could potentially contribute about 40 percent to 50 percent  of the country’s GDP by 2022.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

SONNY DOMINGUEZ
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