Successful Agripreneurs: Agri sector’s hope
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos (The Freeman) - February 18, 2019 - 12:00am

In all respects, numbers don’t lie. These numbers include those relating to the sectoral contributions to our economy (as measured in terms of Gross Domestic Product or GDP) and the labor forces that respectively delivered them.

Looking intently at these numbers, the agriculture sector remained disappointing. In recent years, we saw the rise of the service sector and the fall of the agriculture sector. To recall, in just a few years, we saw the drop of the agriculture sector from a contribution to our GDP of around 10% down to a little over 7% last year. Adding to such woes, the labor force in the same sector went down from what used to be in the vicinity of 30% to just 26%.

This reduction in the labor force should have been better if this was due to modernization or mechanization of the country’s agriculture. Apparently, however, it is not, as the contribution of the sector to our economy went down to just a little over 7%.  If there is one obvious reason, it is due primarily to rural exodus. It simply means, farmers or farmer workers left their farms and tried their luck in highly urbanized areas. The mean reason, abject poverty.

Notably, majority of those in dire strait are in the agriculture sector. In fact, if examined closely, those who are mired in poverty in the highly urbanized cities’ slum areas are rural migrants. These are offshoots of the continuing rural exodus on account of the feeling and perception of helplessness in the countryside.

This situation is not difficult to understand. Remember, for decades now, despite bragging about being an agricultural country, we’ve been experiencing food shortages. Ironically, all these decades, this concern has been provided with temporary solutions like rice importation and government subsidy through the National Food Authority. All of which are non-farmer-productivity-related.

Lest we must forget, one of the more popular programs of all governments-that is from President Ramon Magsaysay to President Benigno “PNoy” Aquino- has been the land for the landless program.  While these governments had termed it differently in their stay, the ultimate objective has always been the same. Supposedly, in trying to empower them by owning the lands they till, they will not only free themselves out of poverty, they shall be able to help this country attain food security.

On the contrary, however, instead of helping this country in attaining food security, we are continuing to subsidize this program. All these years, the beneficiaries have continued to behave like slaves when in fact, money-wise, this government had already spent a lot to free them.

Notably, the present government took a serious look on this sector’s predicament. Knowing fully well that this sector’s growth is practically negligible, in last week’s press briefing, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno stressed that “economic managers are now coordinating with officials in the agriculture and agrarian reform sectors to ensure a more sustainable growth trajectory.” He further said that “the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) presented ways to improve small farmers’ access to credit and loan facilities, to ensure that more resources are channeled into the agriculture sector.”

While this move is really good, we must also try to revisit what has been done in the past that might be similar to what is being concocted now. Clearly, logic will tell us that if the approaches that we used then will be exactly the same as what we are supposed to implement now, the result will be exactly the same. The program is bound to fail.

For instance, the financial assistance of LBP is nothing new. To recall, in late 2009, the LBP earmarked P198 million for loans to agrarian reform beneficiaries. The project dubbed, Agri-enterprise Credit and Agri-finance Services (agriCASH), was reportedly “aimed to provide financial services to agri-based enterprises in Agrarian Reform Communities (ARCs) through selected countryside financial institutions, ARC cooperatives, LBP-assisted cooperatives, and other lending conduits”. Through this project, LBP intended to release up to P198 million in loans from 2009 to 2012. It also expected to “mobilize savings and generate share capital totaling P33 million for the three-year period.   Despite all these kinds of supports that have been running through decades, the agriculture sector remained impoverished.

So that, with this development, what is imperative now is for this government to let other line agencies (like DTI, DOST, etc.) get involve and help equip these beneficiaries with sound entrepreneurial skills by taking more holistic, innovative and comprehensive approaches.

With these approaches in place plus infrastructure support, we will not only be seeing technically-sound farmers but successful agripreneurs” too. Collectively, their individual successes will be this sector’s success.

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