THE WAY FORWARD │ Level Up Philippine Agriculture!

Agri experts agree structural reforms needed for Phl to be food-secure and globally competitive

Author: DA Communications Group | 19 May 2021

Four leading Filipino economists recommend that structural reforms are needed to remedy the plight of Philippine agri-fishery sector and reduce poverty among farmers and fishers, during the first day of the 2021 Food Security Summit organized by the Department of Agriculture (DA).

For one, reforms must be made on the continued bias against agriculture in government budgetary allocation, over-regulation of markets, and monopolies, said Dr. V. Bruce J. Tolentino, current Monetary Board member of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and former DA undersecretary for policy and planning.

“In the short term, it is appropriate to organize programs and activities that provide support to farmers and fishers as the reform process takes place,” said Tolentino, as he emphasized the importance of agriculture credit and insurance to ease the plight of agriculture stakeholders.

For his part, former socio-economic planning secretary Cielito F. Habito said the DA is moving in the right direction, but agriculture is too important to be left to the agency alone.

While the DA’s initiatives — such as the eight-paradigm shift, OneDA, and province-led agriculture-fishery extension systems — are noteworthy, Habito said that agriculture is not the DA’s job alone. It should steer and local governments must row.

“Farmers, bureaucrats, scientists, non-government workers, large and small entrepreneurs, bankers and financiers, traders, logistics providers and workers, as well as the general consumers, all have valuable roles to play,” Habito emphasized.

He added that “food self-sufficiency is best pursued via meaningful and effective support for farmers to improve productivity and competitiveness.”

Habito lamented that compared with nine ASEAN countries, the Philippines ranked seventh with a food security scorecard of 73, beating Cambodia and Laos, based on the 2020 The Economist Global Food Security Index.

The concept of food security, explained Habito, involves a combination of food availability, affordability, quality and safety, and resilience against risks.

“A nation can be food self-sufficient yet food insecure; and can be food-secure even if not food self-sufficient,” he added.

Ramon L. Clarete, dean of the University of the Philippines School of Economics, focused his discussion on prospects of the country to participate in the global food security trade.

He pointed out that a total of $249.7 million in potential export earnings were not captured by the Philippines, of which $148 million is for the US market.

Competition also plays a crucial role in trade, as he noted that traditional markets such as China, South Korea, and Japan slowed down imports of Philippine agriculture products.

Finally, Clarete said four countries offer opportunities for exports of top Philippine farm and fishery products. These are Canada, the Netherlands, China, and Hong Kong.

For his part, Rolando T. Dy, executive director of the University of Asia and the Pacific’s Center for Food and Agri-Business provided an overview of Philippine agricultural trade, noting that in 2019, the total value of agricultural imports was twice as much as exports, at US$14.5 billion (B) and US$6.7 B, respectively.

He said that reversing this trade imbalance requires boosting productivity.

For instance, he said rice and coffee have the potential for yield and quality improvements. Increasing their production can be done using proper models such as farm consolidation and private sector engagement.

Similarly, increasing production of current top exports such as Cavendish banana, pineapple and pineapple products, and coconut products could be achieved through land leases and contract-growing arrangements.

He concluded that the key drivers for improving agricultural productivity are land access, farm consolidation and clustering, supply chain organization, and equity and finance.

Policy and planning undersecretary Rodolfo Vicerra, meanwhile, spelled out the “10 commandments for Philippine agriculture development” to guide the summit participants in their sectoral breakout discussions:

  1. Enhance Safety Nets and Agri Insurance
  2. Environmental Protection and Regeneration
  3. Boost Farm to Market Infrastructure
  4. Establish More Post-Harvest Processing and Storage
  5. Attract the Youth and Professionals in Agriculture
  6. Enhance Access to Farm Equipment and Machineries
  7. Empower Farmers and Fishers as Market Players
  8. Expand Access to Agri-Credit and Financing
  9. Establish DA-LGU Agri-Development Partnerships
  10. Increase Budget / Enhance Investment Climate.

For his part, Secretary William D. Dar rallied the summit participants to “come up with needed policy directions and strategies that will resolve key issues confronting the farming and fishing sectors and provide inputs to update commodity and industry roadmaps under the new normal.”

He pointed out that it “is imperative to sustain and strengthen the country’s food production, distribution and logistics systems to ensure that natural and man-made disasters do not threaten food security and nutrition, and improve Philippine resilience to future shocks.”

Finally, Director General Dr. Qu Dongyu of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, in his keynote address said: “Transformed agri-food systems will play a key role in addressing the global challenges of malnutrition, poverty and hunger.”

He said the FAO’s strategic framework for the next decade seeks to support the 2030 Agenda through the transformation to more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable agri-food systems for better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life, leaving no one behind. These reflect the interconnected economic, social and environmental dimensions of agri-food systems.

“To get to where we need to be by 2030, we urgently need to do things differently and act holistically. We need to rely on data and science, foster partnerships, and push for innovation. FAO provides knowledge and analysis to support its members in making evidence-based decisions,” the FAO chief added.

“In the Philippines, we carried out a rapid assessment of the pandemic’s impact on food supply chains, together with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD),” said Dr. Qu Dongyu.

He added that “the FAO is honored to continue collaborating with the Philippines in transforming the agri-food systems, making agriculture an engine for economic growth, especially amidst these challenging times.”

“Our longstanding partnership can be further articulated at the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit. I congratulate Secretary William Dar for being nominated as the Philippines’ national dialogues convener for the Summit. I would like to assure you of FAO’s full support as you continue to embark on your ‘New Thinking for Transforming Philippine Agriculture.’ Only by working together will we be able to build back better and stronger,” he concluded. ### (DA StratComms)

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