Agri sector’s woes: No end in sight
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos (The Freeman) - September 16, 2019 - 12:00am

Recently, the demands from the LGBTs for comfort rooms or their being allowed to use that of the women necessitated more attention from the lawmakers. At a certain stretch, it dominated the mainstream and the social media.

In fact, at some point, it made the other news items negligible. One of those news items downgraded and has become seemingly negligible is the continuing undesirable performance of our agriculture sector. In particular, rice farmers are complaining that “palay prices have been falling and are now at the P8 to P10 per kilo level, or P2 to P4 less than their production cost of P12 per kilo.”

To recall, last February, in an effort to bring down prices of rice, President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Rice Tariffication Law. As a result, the cap on rice imports was lifted and businessmen were allowed to purchase additional volumes from Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam. As a result, though data from the Philippine Statistics Authority “show average prices of dry palay hovering around P16 to P18 per kilo”, the poor farmers were complaining that palay prices went down.

The fact though is, year after year, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) has consistently reported that the agriculture sector has remain dormant. In some years, in fact, the sector’s performance went down.  As usual, we blame the weather for it. So, as the reports will normally say, “the decline was attributed to the intense heat brought about by the prevailing dry spell as well as the destructions caused by typhoons”.

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 is thought to be a temporary solution of importing rice from Viet Nam and Thailand will likewise become permanent.

Helplessly, instead of finding solutions, we always put the blame on typhoons and long droughts.  These excuses have been used over the years. As if Thailand and Vietnam are not regularly visited by typhoons and long droughts as well. Remember, these rice exporting countries and us belong to the same hemisphere. In fact, just too close with each other. Therefore, our weather and climate are much the same. Yet, they are exporting.

Well, our population maybe partly blamed, but the point we are driving is that rice and corn production is practically inefficient. Rightly so because improvements were 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 92.60% is contributed by the service and industry sectors. That simply means, the agriculture sector contributes just a measly 7.40% to our GDP. Just 7.40% with 26% of our labor force in this sector. That simply means, this sector is inefficient.

Moving forward, the situation can be worse. To recall, several humongous properties were partitioned and distributed to the agrarian reform beneficiaries. A lot more will be partitioned and will be distributed to new beneficiaries, yet, some of the previous beneficiaries already left their abode. If left unchecked, most of these lands/farms will totally miss their stewards’ presence. Recent reports revealed that even agriculture graduates disdain farming.

Truly, 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.

In addressing this concern, we must realize that our poor farmers are not financially sound. They have become victims of unscrupulous middlemen. They lend operating capital to the poor farmers with the agreement that they solely buy their palay at a very low price upon harvest. That’s the truth to these recent complaints.

Moreover, we should provide 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. Done well, only then will we be able to let them till their lands profitably.

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