Five multisector agriculture coalitions on Thursday cited what they considered were missing elements in the action plans for agriculture presented by the five presidential contenders in the recently concluded 10-part Inquirer series, “Election 2016: Agenda of the Next President.”
The agriculture initiatives involving “poverty, economy and jobs, and food security” mentioned by the five presidential candidates in the Inquirer series are needed and appreciated.
Examples are: “Build climate-resilient agricultural communities” (from Jejomar Binay); “Build infrastructure to facilitate transport of produce to markets” (from Rodrigo Duterte); “Ensure crop quantity and quality” (from Grace Poe); “Provide more opportunities for farmers to pull themselves out of poverty” (from Mar Roxas); and “Emphasize effective use of land and other resources” (from Miriam Defensor-Santiago).
The five coalitions, however, identified six priority issues that the five candidates should address in a strategic manner.
First is strengthening the bureaucracy of the Department of Agriculture (DA). The DA should help orchestrate where the country is going and institute an effective management system to facilitate the achievement of this direction.
Though the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has submitted 29 subsector road maps to the government think tank, Philippine Institute for Development Studies, the DA has not submitted even one.
Implementation is also a critical issue. Though the DTI bureaucracy requires each unit to have a globally accepted management system such as ISO 9000, the DA is sorely lacking in this regard. Thus, implementation significantly suffers.
The second priority issue is stakeholder participation. The legally mandated Agricultural and Fishery Councils (AFCs) at the national, regional and provincial levels have the highest representation from the private sector. However, the DA representatives serve at low levels.
Consequently, important decisions and actions cannot be made in a timely manner. Furthermore, the DA-funded projects are not systematically made known to the AFCs, especially at the local level.
This does not make possible budget monitoring of the private sector. The result is much budget misuse and even corruption.
The third is agriculture extension. The 17,000 agriculture extension workers from the DA have been devolved to the local government units. Unfortunately, the large majority are not effectively supervised.
The result is poor technology transfer and low productivity. Though research is also an important issue, the use of this research through effective extension is even more important.
The fourth is credit and insurance. Unfortunately, access to credit and adequate insurance are not provided to our agricultural producers.
For example, the Land Bank of the Philippines 2014 Annual Report states that only 9 percent of its P386-billion loanable fund went to its mandated sector of small farmers and fisherfolk.
Can Land Bank learn from agricultural banks in our neighboring countries to provide much more credit to this neglected sector? This is especially important for our rural women, who have proven to deliver a very high return on investment.
Last year, state-run Philippine Crop Insurance Corp. shelled out a pitiful P1.1 billion to small farmers. Given today’s climate change, shouldn’t this crop insurance be dramatically increased?
The fifth is our agriculture global positioning. We are not on a level playing field with our foreign competitors. They are getting significantly more subsidies than we are.
This is unfair and dangerous in the free trade regime. What subsidies and technical support can the government give to farmers and fisherfolk?
Also in the international trade area, import underreporting (an indicator of smuggling) has increased from 6 percent in 2005 to 36 percent in 2014.
Can creative measures such as a Cabinet-level public-private sector oversight group be established to curb our rampant agriculture smuggling?
It has worked successfully in the past, impressively decreasing our smuggling rate by one-fourth from 8 percent in 2004 to 6 percent in 2005.
The sixth priority issue is structural agriculture reform. This should be in areas such as effective agrarian reform with the required support services so that the farmer will be better off; a fisherfolk settlement program with the appropriate structure that has been legislated, but hardly implemented; food self-sufficiency, with the necessary competitive-enhancing measures, especially with the rice tariffs decreasing to dangerously low levels; and utilization of the coconut levy funds and assets so that they will actually benefit the coconut farmers, instead of being diverted or carelessly privatized to benefit other parties.
These six priority issues were chosen by consensus from five sets of recommendations, one from each coalition. These coalitions, representing different major agriculture groups, united for the first time to address our deteriorating agricultural situation.
Alyansa Agrikultura, representing farmers and fisherfolk, has 42 federations and organizations covering all major agricultural sectors.
Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc., representing agribusiness, includes value-chain champions from 32 agriculture commodity groups.
Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines, representing academe and science, has professors and scientists from universities and research institutes throughout the Philippines.
Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan, representing rural women, has empowerment chapters in 42 provinces.
Agriculture Fisheries 2025, representing different agriculture stakeholder leaders, was formed at a 2011 two-day conference led by Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, and the then Senate and House agriculture committee chairs, Sen. Francis Pangilinan and Rep. Mark Mendoza.
Sad state of agri
The five coalitions noted that from 2011 to 2015, the DA budget increased from P30 billion to P89 billion. However, the average agriculture growth rate was 1.5 percent, well below the 4-percent government target rate. On the other hand, the DTI, with a budget less than 10 percent of DA’s, grew by 6.4 percent.
Agriculture was clearly left behind, with the resulting noninclusive growth.
There are 12 million people employed in the agriculture sector. With their linkages (agri-food manufacturing and ancillary services), they contribute about 40 percent of our gross domestic product.
Yet these 12 million people belong to the country’s poorest. Given an average landholding of 1.5 hectares, a one-crop rice farmer gets P33,000 per year while a coconut farmer gets P30,000 per year. This is even less than a third of the P105,000 poverty threshold for a family of five.
In a 2014 study of rural poverty, the Philippines had the highest poverty level of 40 percent. This is significantly more than the poverty levels of Thailand at 31 percent (2013), Indonesia at 30 percent (2014) and Vietnam at 17 percent (2013).
The five coalitions welcome the general directions outlined in the action plans of the five presidential contenders, but the candidates should also include the six strategic initiatives identified in the six priority areas.
This is the only way we can reverse our downward agricultural trend and achieve true inclusive growth.
(Editor’s note: The author is currently chair of Alyansa Agrikultura, a former secretary for Presidential Committee on Flagship Programs and Projects, and former undersecretary of agriculture and of trade and industry.)
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