Agri sector: Safe from the coronavirus
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos (The Freeman) - March 9, 2020 - 12:00am

The breaking news from all networks in the world today have been on the spread and the threat of the coronavirus. These news have trivialized even the normally hyped geopolitical conflicts among powerful nations. So huge a malady that it has devalued the very stable stock exchanges in the world.  Worse, in all likelihood, might just bring some companies in the travel and tourism sectors to their knees and face the reality of declaring bankruptcy.   

Undeniably, the airline companies all around the globe have either retrenched or advised their employees to go on leave without pay. Some hotels are asking their employees to work on a rotation basis as tourists or travelers are now coming in trickles.

Apart from the travel and tourism sectors, the country’s construction industry is likewise affected as our contractors have been substantially importing materials from China. Consequently, developers are also feeling the burden of increasing cost. 

This is a very sad development. Remember, in us, for decades, the service and industry sectors are driving the economy. This is so as, among others, tourism, business process outsourcing and gaming activities have always continued to contribute and government spending on infrastructure were sped up.  What was truly disappointing was that the agricultural sector has always been disappointing. 

Well, that the service and industry sectors were principally driving our economy was prior to the coronavirus scare. As to whether these sectors will still contribute influentially in the future will totally depend on the extent of this coronavirus scare. One thing for sure though, the agricultural sector will be safe from this coronavirus since whether we are freely wandering around or in seclusion our stomachs will still crave for food. Frankly, a primary reason why this government should stop trivializing the agriculture sector.

Indeed, looking intently at the contributors to our economy, 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% starting two years ago. 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 farm workers left their farms and tried their luck in highly urbanized areas. The main 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.

We can’t blame them. 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. All of which are non-farmer-productivity-related. 

Quite frankly, there had been multitudes of perceived solutions to these woes (that didn’t work out) that were presented on the table. Notably, however, something different was broached last year.  To recall, NEDA was urging colleges and universities “to improve their course offerings on agriculture-related programs and make them attractive to the young generation.” 

Honestly, that was the first time that we heard this kind of proposal. Unlike the usual “fire-fighting” approaches in solving the agriculture sector’s woes, this happens to be the more lasting solution.

Agreeably, it is through mechanization, by way of educating the younger generation, that we will be able to solve our problems in agriculture. Yes, with emphasis on educating young children and making courses in agriculture attractive to them by making it prospectively “economically attractive”, we can probably see soon the best minds joining the profession. 

Also, as the younger generation are “digital natives”, incorporating information technology (which is massively used by farmers in Japan) into the course can also generate more interest.  More importantly, the scholarships (such as the DA’s Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund), that are currently offered will likewise, give this initiative the needed boost.  

By doing this, we can truly say that we are no longer trivializing the agriculture sector, we are prioritizing it.

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