Employment rise in agriculture: Productivity enhancing?
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel O. Abalos (The Freeman) - December 9, 2019 - 12:00am

Last week, the National Economic and Development Authority(NEDA) reported that the “country’s labor market continues to thrive, with increased employment level and lower unemployment rates in October 2019.”

Quoting the Philippine Statistics Authority’s October round of the Labor Force Survey, NEDA further reported that “all major sectors – agriculture, industry and services – posted employment gains reaching a total net employment generation of 1.8 million.”

This simply means that “employment rate rose to 95.5 percent, from 94.9 percent in October 2018.” According to NEDA, “this rate is the highest in all previous October rounds of the survey since 2009.” Simply put, “the unemployment rate dropped further to 4.5 percent or 153,000 less unemployed persons, from last year’s 5.1 percent.” As NEDA stressed, “this is the lowest overall unemployment rate for all October survey rounds in the last ten years.”

Indeed, this is a very encouraging development. Curiously, however, this report talks about aggregates. Also, these figures are national in scope. Therefore, we can simply surmise that the growth in both the industry and services sectors are largely in highly urbanized cities.  These are places where business process outsourcing and POGOs thrive. These are the places too where theme parks are sprouting. Moreover, these are places where hotels and restaurants are mushrooming. Well, where else?

Indeed, as has always been the case, the service and industry sectors are driving the economy as, among others, tourism, business process outsourcing and gaming activities continued to contribute and government spending on infrastructure are sped up. Despite the reported employment rise, however, the reality that the agriculture sector remains dormant or downright a consistent poor performer obtain.

If the employment rise in agriculture sector resulted in increase in productivity, then, this development is good. However, looking intently at the numbers that count, the agriculture sector remained disappointing. In recent years, we saw the rise of the industry and service sectors 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 just a little over 7% last year.

Well, we have a ready excuse for this as the labor force in the same sector went down from what used to be in the vicinity of 30% to just 26%. It should have been good though if the reduction resulted to productivity increases as we may be able to conclude that this could be due to modernization or mechanization. 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 farm workers left their farms and tried their luck in highly urbanized areas. The mean reason, abject poverty.

Admittedly, 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. So that, if there were increases in employment in the agriculture sector, this is probably due to some frustrations and miseries in the urban areas.  Simply put, they returned to their respective provinces.

Notably though, NEDA Undersecretary for Regional Development and Officer-in-Charge (OIC) Adoracion M. Navarro stressed that the “government must still continue to fast-track the implementation of programs and policies that help create quality employment and improve productivity.” She further said that the“full implementation of recently enacted reforms, such as the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act and the Revised Corporation Code, are essential in boosting employment creation by fostering Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) growth in the country.”

Good. But, frankly, there had been multitudes of perceived solutions to these woes (that didn’t work out) in the agriculture sector that were already presented on the table. Hopefully though, the full implementation of the aforementioned reformswill, indeed, be fruitful and shall benefit especially those in the agriculture sector.

Lest we forget, we are so productive at crafting laws but are so terrible in implementing them.


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