THE WAY FORWARD │ Level Up Philippine Agriculture!

Agri “sage” group convenes to advise DA, commends leadership for initial feats

Author: DA Communications Group | 20 August 2020

Prominent luminaries in the field of agriculture, science, economics, and agribusiness recently convened for their inaugural meeting, ushering in their role as the “Secretary of Agriculture’s Group of Experts” or SAGE.

Tasked to advise Secretary William Dar and the Department of Agriculture (DA) management, SAGE is chaired by national scientist, Dr. Emil Q. Javier, who previously served as science minister, president of the University of the Philippines (UP), and chancellor of UP Los Baños (UPLB).

The other SAGE members are former agriculture secretaries, Senen C. Bacani, Leonardo Q. Montemayor, and Domingo F. Panganiban; former socio-economic planning and NEDA secretary, Cielito F. Habito; current presidential adviser for entrepreneurship, Joey Concepcion; and University of the East president, Dr. Ester Albano Garcia.

“On behalf of the entire DA family, we express our gratitude to the SAGE members for accepting our invitation. We are both humbled and privileged to listen to your wise advice and guidance as I embark on my second year of service to our countrymen,” said Secretary Dar, as he opened the initial SAGE meeting, on August 7, at the DA main office, Quezon City.

“For the agri-fishery sector to ‘survive, reboot, and grow,’ under the new normal, we need to implement the ‘whole of nation approach,’ and this includes the valuable insights of our predecessors, trusted agriculture experts and luminaries,” he added.

For his part, Dr. Javier said: “On behalf of my colleagues, we thank Secretary Dar for the honor and opportunity to be part of his group of experts. We will extend our full support and participation, and look forward to a fruitful and constructive engagement with Secretary Dar and the DA.”

The group also commended Secretary Dar and the entire Department for the 1.6-percent growth registered by the agriculture sector during the second quarter of the year, adding that they will recommend policies to help sustain the positive growth, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In particular, they will provide advice on how to effectively implement major DA initiatives, notably the Plant, Plant, Plant program, guided by the food security and resiliency policy framework.

During the meeting, Secretary Dar was joined physically by Secretary Bacani and other DA officials, while other SAGE members, including Dr. Javier, attended via teleconference.

Concepcion was represented by Go Negosyo adviser for agripreneurship, Ana Margarita Hontiveros-Malvar, former DA Secretary Panganiban temporarily begged off, while Dr. Garcia had a previous engagement.

After welcoming Dr. Javier and other SAGE members, Secretary Dar asked undersecretary for policy and planning, Rodolfo Vicerra to brief them on the DA’s food security and resiliency policy framework, and food system policy shifts.

Dr. Javier said, “the framework is very important because it summarizes the job at hand, and provides the perspective that the DA caters to the needs of farmers and fishers, and addresses their problems in ways consistent to the overall national development.”

He added that the SAGE appreciates the thoroughness of the food security and resiliency framework, as in a way it serves as the DA’s “bible” in implementing programs, projects, and initiatives.

Javier said the DA should continue to focus on empowering farmers and fisherfolk without neglecting their broader concerns.

The group also supported current DA’s programs, like on:

  • farm consolidation and clustering;
  • more rigid monitoring and evaluation of infrastructure projects, and farm machineries and equipment, including farm inputs given to farmers’ cooperatives and associations (FCAs);
  • strengthening the mechanisms and accessibility of crop insurance; and
  • encouraging farmers and fishers to form or join FCAs.

Below are excerpts of some recommendations of SAGE members:

  • Javier said the DA should highlight that farm consolidation does not mean consolidating land titles and ownership, but more of a mutual agreement among farmers to till their contiguous lands to attain economies of scale. One effective way of consolidating farms is by the establishment and strengthening of cooperatives.
  • Former NEDA Sec. Habito said modernization of agriculture lies on mechanization and digital agriculture. Promoting mechanization is imperative to make agriculture more productive. Digital tools make agriculture attractive and exciting for people to engage in agriculture, especially the youth. Digital tools should be included and cross-cutting in improving the food value chain. He added that “the challenge to our growth is how we can be most effective in our interventions.”
  • Former DA Sec. Bacani commended the DA for including the word resiliency as part of its vision, as the Philippines is one of the most typhoon- and disaster-prone countries in the world.

He urged the DA to also focus efforts and budget in developing and promoting high-value crops that have a competitive advantage. “Be guided by the 80:20 rule, where 20 percent (%) of the crops will give the farmer 80% of the expected income,” he said.

Further, he said crop insurance should not only cover the financial loss but also opportunity loss, enough for farmers to survive. If possible, DA can help PCIC subsidize crop insurance premiums.

In reply, Secretary Dar said there are ongoing talks with the World Bank and the National Treasury for a “Reinvigorated Insurance for Agriculture” program.

Also, the DA has requested the Department of Budget Management (DBM) to allot P1B for crop insurance and P1.1B for crop diversification from the excess rice tariffs collected in 2019.

The Bureau of Customs collected last year a total of P12.1 billion in tariffs from imported rice. As per the Rice Tarrification Law, P10B is automatically allotted for the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, while the excess can fund other DA initiatives and assistance like crop insurance, land titling, and crop diversification, among others.

  • Former Sec. Montemayor said the DA-PCIC should be commended for using innovations like drone technology to speed up processing and payments crop insurance claims. He also cited the importance of capacity-building and training LGUs and FCAs through a strengthened agricultural extension system — that was fully supported by other SAGE members.

In reply, Secretary Dar said the DA — through the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) and Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) — is piloting the Provincial-led Agriculture and Fisheries Extension Systems in Ilocos Norte.

  • Malvar said Concepcion shares similar strategies with Secretary Dar in empowering farmers, fishers, FCAs, agri-enterprises, and agripreneurs, including the youth.

She said one of Go Negosyo’s initiatives is the “Kapatid Agri Mentor Me Program” (KAMMP), a face-to-face mentorship with agripreneurs and FCAs, which is now conducted online. Secretary Dar once served as a KAMMP mentor. Go Negosyo partners with DA-ATI and other volunteer institutions and agribusiness experts.

Discussions also revolved on how the Duterte administration can provide more basic needs of farmers and fisherfolk during lean months, establishment of market-oriented and food logistics systems, and strengthening of monitoring and evaluation of current DA projects and programs.

The SAGE members were also briefed by concerned DA officials on major commodity programs on rice, corn, and high-value crops during the meeting, from 10 am to 3 pm.

Dr. Javier suggested another SAGE meeting to discuss other DA banner programs on livestock, fisheries, and local and foreign-funded projects.

SAGE was created through DA Special Order No. 519, signed by Secretary Dar, on June 29, 2020. The DA-BAR serves as the group’s secretariat. ### (DA StratComms)

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