Agri sector: Dormant, as usual
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel O. Abalos (The Freeman) - August 13, 2018 - 12:00am

The hoopla surrounding the supposed federalism-shift-information-material, “I-pepe-dede-ralismo” video of Mocha Uson, continues to hug the headlines. Apparently, there were no endorsements even from President Duterte’s allies, just straightforward criticisms on a video that was considered lewd, vulgar, inappropriate, done in poor taste, etc.

With the general public getting involved, it can further dominate the airwaves, the broadsheets, and the social media, thus, making other very significant news items negligible. One of those significant news items downgraded and has become seemingly negligible is the fact that the economy just grew by 6% in the second quarter of the year.

To recall, just last Thursday, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) announced that the “economy grew by 6 percent in the second quarter of 2018.  The last time the economy just grew by 6% was in 2015.  Since then, our GDP’s growth has always been beyond it. Sadly, this is quite off the government’s targets of 7 to 8 percent, “the ideal growth rate in which the economic improvements would be felt by even the poorest of the poor”, the PSA added.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said the “slowdown is partly because of policy decisions undertaken by the government, which are expected to promote sustainable development.”

This includes the “closure of popular tourist destination Boracay for rehabilitation last April” and the “the stricter regulations imposed on the mining and aquaculture sectors.”

However, what is of great concern is the usual dismal performance of the agriculture sector.  Remember, the government’s policy decision as far as the agriculture sector is concern is always towards growth.  Yet, for decades we’ve been performing poorly.

This is a very sad development.  With our population growing at the vicinity of 1.7 percent a year or close to 1.8 million, food shortages shall become permanent.  Therefore, it will never come as a surprise if in the near future, what used to be our temporary solution of importing rice from Viet Nam and Thailand shall become permanent.

Yes, our population maybe partly blamed, but the point we are driving is that rice and corn production is practically inefficient. Rightly so because, almost always, improvements are noted in, among others, banana, pineapple and cassava. If we try to figure it out, these are produced by huge companies that have their own platoons of good farm managers. Therefore, while our government automatically blames the weather for the inefficiencies of our rice and corn farmers (who are mostly inadequately funded and inefficient), the well-managed companies (they practically share the same weather/climate) have continued to grow.

Indeed, in dissecting our GDP, it is quite obvious that about 90% is contributed by the service and industry sectors.  It is apparent too that the agriculture sector contributes just a measly 11% to our GDP. What is worst is, 31 percent or about 1/3 of our labor force is in the agriculture sector. That simply means, this sector is inefficient.

Moving forward, the situation can be worse. To recall, several humongous properties were partitioned for the agrarian reform beneficiaries. Yet, some of them left their abode.  In fact, soon, most of these lands/farms will totally miss their stewards’ presence.  Recent reports revealed that even agriculture graduates disdain farming.

Worse, agricultural workers are dwindling every year as most of them, as surveyed by the Food and Agricultural Organization, migrate to urban areas seeking for better paying jobs.  Some, in fact, are working as mere household helpers because, to most of them, these jobs have given them better rewards than that of the farms.

Thus, in addressing this concern, we should develop successful new farmers by providing them experience-based production and sound business-management as well as marketing trainings. To ensure success, this government must also provide the necessary infrastructure, such as, irrigation, storage facilities, transport equipment, packing and processing facilities. Moreover, supervised loans may also be considered to finance farm inputs. Done well, only then will we be able to let them till their lands profitably.

Still, without a doubt, the biggest hurdle that this government should overcome is to prevent these farmers from leaving their lands. To reemphasize, that can only be achieved by helping them till their lands profitably. After all, despite all the support, their presence is still paramount and necessary.

FEDERALISM
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