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Opinion

A leader in his field  

ROSES AND THORNS - Pia Roces Morato - The Philippine Star

With agricultural development, rural farm productivity and food security at the forefront of today’s Philippine socio-economic priorities, I was very happy to catch up with my good friend Robert Nazal, who gave me profound insights on these topics. Robert is one of the country’s top agro-entrepreneurs and farmer’s welfare advocates, whose companies UAL Bioscience Corporation and HealthWellnessLifestyle (HWL) are at the cutting edge of technology and innovation in the agri-business sector.

The Philippines, according to Robert, “has always been, and will continue to be, an agricultural economy,” alluding not just to our God-given geographic advantage, but to the culture and history that Filipinos have built around farming as well. Indeed, according to the Food and Fertilizer Technology Center for the Asian and Pacific Region, we have at least 9 million hectares of farmland across the country.

With so much land ready to be utilized and maximized by our farmers, what’s really standing in the way of the Philippines becoming an agricultural powerhouse? Robert raised three issues: food safety, food security and the competitiveness of local productivity and costs.

On food safety, the agro-entrepreneur made a good point about the correlation – at least, ideally – between population growth, quality of life and the demand for food. “They should be directly proportional, particularly when they slope upwards,” Robert explained. “As our population increases, our goal should be to balance that growth with the quality of living, and this includes an ample supply of safe, nutritious food.”

On the bright side, Robert remains optimistic that our local farmers – given their generational mastery of the soil – can continue to yield export-quality crops. On the other hand, it may be the industry players themselves that are holding back the march of progress, due to their mistrust of modern technologies.

This seeming aversion to innovation, according to Robert, can ultimately be traced to the misuse or underutilization of agrarian tech, where “farmers then may have been rightly encouraged to adopt modern means, but lacked the proper orientation to optimize it.” Consequently, rather than see improvements, producers would often end up barely covering the cost of their latest investment in farming technology. This, he noted, leads to the misplaced uncertainties in solutions that could have been an opportunity to address similar challenges such as food security and overall competitiveness.

The mistrust in “over-technologized” farming, Robert noted, leads farmers to the “return to nature” approach. “There is no harm to it, of course,” he said, as “nature-based solutions are at its core environmentally-friendly, eco-sustainable and enables regenerative agriculture, which in return protects our farmlands.” But what remains to be improved for farmers on this path are their scalability, commercial viability and productivity. Areas like these are where modern means should come into play, while taking care to prevent overwhelming its adopters. “I believe agricultural tech should be as holistic. Both the effectiveness, efficiency and commercial viability of every solution should always work together,” Robert underscored.

I pointed out that it was progressive agro-entrepreneurs like him who may be able to bring the Philippines back to the forefront of agricultural development. Humbly, my friend noted that it was a collective effort, anchored on those who would “heed the call and fill the gap that farmers and producers will inevitably vacate as they turn their focus towards farming.”

“We are a significant exporter of crops like fruits, nuts and animal produce. There are opportunities, too, for considering value-added or high-value crops that can complement our base crops and help us unlock higher value and profit, which ensures benefits across the board,” he added.

As a final call to action for agro-entrepreneurs, Robert believes in the potential of their participation in all fields concerning agriculture: “Let’s throw ourselves behind policies that empower our agricultural sector to be self-sufficient. These policies should be open to technology, balanced between producer-consumer and enforced by a regulatory body that disincentivizes the syndical practices of old.”

With these policies in place, we can hopefully look forward to a bountiful harvest, where everyone has something to put on their plate.

NAZAL

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