Beyond Buzzwords: Transforming Philippine Agriculture!

Facing the big challenges in Philippine Agriculture

Author: DA Communications Group | 5 June 2022

As the Philippines dealt with the ‘perfect storm’ – the COVID-19 pandemic, African Swine Fever (ASF), and the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war – agriculture is among the sectors to receive the hardest blow, feeling every inch of strain, horrifying the entire food system altogether. The Department of Agriculture (DA), under the leadership of outgoing President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, left no stone unturned to lessen, if not totally eradicate, the devastating impacts that are rippling out beyond borders and across societies, further increasing indignant instability.

COVID-19

While the country is slowly going back to its normalcy after battling the COVID-19 pandemic for more than two years now, the current health crisis continues to dampen global goods trade, amplifying job and income losses of most middle- and low income Filipinos. At the onset of the crisis, food supply chains were shackled, imposing restrictions on the movement of goods as well as people. These protection measures resulted to food price inflation, further increasing hunger and poverty incidences.

The DA acted upon this with urgency, employing measures to cushion the impact of the pandemic to the already ailing Filipinos. The Department wasted no time in restructuring its public funds and programs, allowing movement of agricultural goods, access to affordable food, providing protection and intervention to local farmers and fisherfolk, all for the assurance of food security.

Among the DA’s interventions include the farmers’ and fisherfolk’s access to credit and other financing programs and technical support, establishment of the Kadiwa ni Ani at Kita, provision and distribution of farm inputs, equipment, and machineries, promotion of urban farming/gardening, among others, to keep the food production chain going.

ASF

The persistence of the ASF is still holding the country hostage, where the speed and severity of its damage has collapsed the hog industry. The DA took strides to stop the spread of the ASF virus through precautionary culls while compensating local hog raisers. The DA distributed more than P2 billion as indemnification to affected swine farmers.

To prepare the country in transboundary animal diseases and its proliferation within Philippine borders, the DA has put in place stricter biosecurity control measures in tandem with the Philippine Ports Authority, Bureau of Customs, and the local government units (LGUs). According to the Secretary, this will be a common practice to prevent or at least minimize the future risks of transboundary animal diseases. The Department has also collaborated with public and private partners in the development of a vaccine against ASF – a first of its kind in the Philippines.

Secretary Dar said that the ASF vaccine’s initial trial from February 10 to May 6 in San Miguel, Bulacan, showed promising results. “In the trial, no clinical signs associated with ASF disease were observed and minimal non-ASF related mortality was posted,” the agri chief said.

Rice Tariffication Law (RTL)

The enactment of the RTL since 2019 is considered the crescendo of the Duterte administration. It has raised so many controversies, even accusing the DA to be anti-farmers.

Since the 80’s, restrictive trade and regulatory policies have stunted the growth of the country’s rice industry. For more than 30 years, the National Food Authority (NFA), whose monopoly power rests over imports and prices, dominated the rice market. As a result, Filipino consumers pay high prices of rice in the market, the government keeps on subsidizing NFA losses, while rice farmers remain poorest of the poor. It was in 2018 when a severe rice shortage became a major driver of inflation, rising by a factor of 10. With the Philippines being a rice-eating country, the effects were disheartening as rice is a basic household expenditure of every Filipino family, rich or poor.

The political will of President Duterte gave a massive turn to the rice sector, when he signed the RTL into law. Basically, this replaced rice import quantitative restrictions with tariffs.

This resulted to two major things: (1) rice is no longer a main contributor to inflation, benefitting millions of Filipino rice consumers as rice prices were made cheaper by an average of almost P7/kg., and (2) P10 B-fund to make rice farmers more competitive.

“The RTL has increased the purchasing power among the bottom 40 percent of the income groups due to the savings they gained from lower rice prices,” the agriculture chief said.

Moreover, with the inflow of tariffs, the government created a P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF). Under the RTL, all import duties collected from rice imports will be used for RCEF that will ultimately benefit Filipino rice farmers: provision of quality, certified seeds, farm machinery and equipment, financial support, and trainings.

Three years since the implementation of the RTL, the DA continues to see major accomplishments, making RTL truly a game changer in the agriculture sector. In fact, the record palay harvests for two consecutive years is proof of the success of the RTL.

“RTL has been instrumental in the increased productivity from 3.69 metric tons (MT) per hectare (ha) in 2019 to 4.03 MT/ha in 2021 wet season. This is about P5,100 per hectare increase at P15 per kilo gram of dry palay,” Secretary Dar said.

Ukraine-Russia War

While the country has only been slowly recovering from these crises, it took another disaster for the Philippines to plunge into another devastation – probably the greatest of them all – the Ukraine and Russia conflict.

This ongoing war has fueled food insecurity to the highest power.

Food insecurity is now inclined to be an even more threatening trend, with the two power countries at war being among the breadbaskets of the world. This means that export activities are challenged, putting other dependent countries vulnerable, including the Philippines.

The rising prices on energy, oil, fertilizer, wheat and wheat products, and add to that the export bans being imposed by other countries to “protect their own people” continue to put many countries at risk, especially the Philippines, who is reliant on these key producing countries to fill local production gap.

Needless to say, the Ukraine crisis accentuated the discrepancies and inequalities in food production, thus the humane necessity to fill the gap through importation.

In the most basic sense, importation is allowed for an economy to thrive – to supply nonexistence and scarcity of products and goods, reduce domestic food prices, and provide wider choice in consumer goods, to name a few. Agricultural trade does not only happen in the Philippines, rather it is a global phenomenon that helps stimulate economies.

“We continue to put premium on protecting our farmers and fishers. Our goal has always been geared toward food security, eventually leading to food sovereignty. We only allow imports to fill in the deficit or what we cannot produce locally,” the DA chief said.

“Even President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., who included food sovereignty as one of his priority agenda, mentioned how importation is being forced on us simply because local production is not sufficient,” Secretary Dar added.

The woes of local production

Food production cannot keep up with the immense population growth.

The Philippines’ population expansion rate was estimated at 1.4 percent in 2019 by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), while the agriculture sector grew by a measly 0.5 percent in late 2020. These figures clearly show the food-population imbalance, where the rapid rate growth of the population outpace the capacity to produce food.

While the measures to control population growth are implausible as of the moment, the government must focus on boosting local food production instead.

Secretary Dar continues to call upon the national government to increase the agriculture’s budget, proposing a P250 B allocation as the first, and most crucial step.

“If next year’s budget is not doubled or tripled, and it will be at the same level as the budget we have today, we will always have the same problem that we have had before,” the agri chief stressed.

To substantiate this campaign, the DA created the National Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization and Industrialization Plan (NAFMIP), a 10-year strategic plan focusing on a long-term vision of commodity industry and agricultural infrastructure development which will usher the sector towards food sovereignty.

The implementation of the agrarian reform has also induced a significant downfall in the local food production of the country. This reform caused fragmentation of farm lands, with farmers individually tending small parcels of land. On average, a farmer’s land ownership is at 1-3 hectares, which is not a sizable land area for big-shot commercial and industry development.

“Farmers’ land ownership ceiling must be significantly raised to 25 hectares, if we want an industrialized sector. If not, then we can act on it by consolidating these small farm plots, so that we can breed technology and innovation, including infrastructure and mechanization development which in turn will open doors for bigger markets, thus bigger incomes for our farmers,” Secretary Dar said.

Keeping the balance

Until the agriculture sector gets its fair share of public funding to make the dream of a food sovereign country happen, the DA will keep on working – despite its limitations – for the greater good of the Filipino farmers and fisherfolk.

While lands cannot be increased for farm use, and food production remains a challenge, the DA will continue to employ other efficient methods to provide food for every Filipino.

The OneDA Reform Agenda, Secretary Dar’s brainchild, has kept the agriculture sector afloat and resilient, amid the challenges for the past three years. Built on four pillars: Consolidation, Modernization, Industrialization, and Professionalization, the OneDA Reform Agenda’s ultimate goal is to modernize and industrialize Philippine agriculture, and in the long run make it a major contributor to the country’s gross domestic product.

“It is a transformative strategy, capitalizing on technology, innovation, and the drive to make our farmers and fishers prosperous at the end of the day,” said Secretary Dar.

Once fully adopted and implemented, the OneDA Reform Agenda promises to make the Philippines a powerhouse in agriculture, at par with other ASEAN countries.

In its short years of execution, the OneDA Reform Agenda has birthed gains and breakthroughs, leaving a dent in the agricultural landscape of the Philippines. These include trade and export development, agri-industrial business corridors, youth engagement in agriculture, easy and affordable access of farmers and fishers to agri financing, private sector participation in agriculture as ‘big brothers,’ mechanization and infrastructure investments, and agriculture digitalization, among others.

“What works for now is our conscious unity to work towards the goal despite these myriad of challenges. We were able to showcase it through this perfect storm: the COVID-19 pandemic, the ASF, the birth pains of RTL, and now the Ukraine crisis. I assure you that the DA has been working to serve our farmers and fishers, and the rest of our fellow Filipinos. We take the lessons, we act on them, and hopefully, we realize a prosperous agriculture and fisheries,” Secretary Dar concluded. ### (Daryl Lou Battad, DA-StratComms)

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