Agri sector: Much plans, less results
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos (The Freeman) - August 12, 2019 - 12:00am

Lately, as reported, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) “backed the strategies laid out by new Agriculture Secretary William Dar, saying it will contribute to poverty reduction efforts and enable the agriculture sector to have a bigger contribution to economic output.” Honestly, as important and as non-performing as the Department of Agriculture (DA), they needed this push or endorsement. Hopefully, with the change in leadership, we can see and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

To recall, for decades now and for several administrations that passed, the agriculture sector remained the poorest performer of all sectors in the economy. Of course, the DA will always have a ready answer or excuse for that. That should be the weather, climate, etc. Simply put, the sector’s failure are all blamed on fortuitous events, nothing from their own doing or non-doing.

In trying to change the direction of the agriculture sector and “pave the way for a three to four percent growth in the agriculture sector”, DA Secretary William Dar has “put forward a strategy built around eight paradigms that include modernization of agriculture, industrialization, promotion of exports, farm consolidation, roadmap development, infrastructure development, higher budget and investments for agriculture, and legislative support.”

Actually, there are not must differences as far as that of the previous administrations’ thrusts as far as plans and programs are concerned. Just like in the past, in all these plans, we can surmise that their ultimate objective is not just food security but poverty reduction as well.

Yes, it is a fact that those in dire need come from the agriculture sector. For one, about one-third of the country’s work force is in this sector. Yet, it only contributes about 10% or even less to our economy. Simply put, this sector is so inefficient. Sadly, some even left their farms and tried their luck in the urban areas.

Soon, if left unchecked, these numbers will worsen. For one, as the land distribution through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) continues, more and more beneficiaries will soon leave their abode. This is not surprising at all. Yes, through the CARP, the partitioning and turnover of several humongous properties to the beneficiaries are well settled. What is unsettling is the diversity and to some extent, stupidity, of some beneficiaries. Foolishly, some of them have unequivocally declared that they shall put their lots on lease or go for questionable joint venture agreement.

Then, at the same time enroll in the 4Ps program, the conditional cash transfer program.   Therefore, at best, the program beneficiaries will just collect rental or share annually. Then, either stay in the urban areas or live in the rural areas like pensioners.

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 help this country attain food security. On the contrary, however, instead of helping this country be self-sufficient, 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. Worse, they’ve started acting like mendicants by raking in billions in annual subsidy.

To recall, sometime in 2011, in trying to help these group of non-performing farmers, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Agriculture have forged an alliance to help farmers and fishermen develop their businesses. Whether it is still working as it was envisioned until today, we do not know. Hopefully though, through this Agribusiness Center, other line agencies should get involved and help equip these beneficiaries with sound entrepreneurial skills by taking a more holistic and comprehensive approach.

Frankly, we’ve already planned and programmed so much in the past. Whether those plans and programs were productively implemented, we do not know. What is certain though is that each time a new administration comes, the old administrations’ programs are gone. Worse, even in cases where in the same administration, the cabinet secretaries are changed, the new one just disregard the previously implemented plans and programs that worked.

Simply put, to make a difference, change old practices that didn’t work and continue those that worked as well as those that only needed some push to work.

Indeed, the key is continuity for better results.

NATIONAL ECONOMIC AND DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY WILLIAM DAR
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