Revamp in agriculture needed | Inquirer Business

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An agriculture revamp is definitely needed. This was evident in two recent gatherings.

The first was the May 14 National Farmer-Fisherfolk Congress. It resulted in 95 organizations signing a “Unity Statement in Saving the Plunging Livelihood of Filipino Farmers and Fisherfolk and Addressing the Critical Situation of Philippine Agriculture and Food Security.”

The second was the May 18-19 National Food Security Summit called by President Duterte and led by Agriculture Secretary William Dar. Its theme was “Food for Today and Beyond: Transforming Philippine Agriculture.”

Many of the organizations from the Farmer-Fisherfolk Congress boycotted the government-sponsored Food Security Summit. They said it was useless talking to a government that did not listen to them. Fortunately, others attended, with the majority of the Congress’ recommendations approved by the Summit.

Action from Summit. The question remains as to whether the Summit will be Nato (No Action, Talk Only). With a revamp recommended and farmers and fisherfolk suffering every day, we must make the best out of this administration’s last year. It will also lay the ground work for the next administration to hit the ground running. The fact that the government called the Summit should be welcomed and not rejected.

A new procedure was implemented. In addition to groups of 30 or more meeting with Department of Agriculture (DA) officials, there are now in-depth consultations between three top officials of the DA and three private sector leaders. This was done for the banner programs of rice; livestock, poultry and corn; aquaculture and fisheries; high value crops (HVCs), and cross-cutting issues.

For each group, the government was represented by the appropriate undersecretary and DA program director, while the private sector was led by the Philippine Council of Agriculture and Food program chair and a representative of the Farmer-Fisherfolk Congress. A revamp was recommended for high value crops during the group’s top level meeting. This aims to replace the dysfunctional monocrop system. It will be supported by a new province-led agriculture extension system and innovative farm clustering and consolidation advocated by both the Congress and the Summit.

Harmful monocrop system. Here is an example. Of our 3.5 million coconut hectares, two million are practically idle, with nothing planted between the coconut trees. Consequently, net income remains at P25,000 a hectare per year.

We import more than 70 percent of our coffee and cacao requirements. If we plant coffee in between these trees, the investment payback is within three years, with additional net income of P78,000 for the fourth year and a steady P111,000 for the next years. For cacao, payback is within four years, with an additional income of P130,000 starting the fifth year. But that does not include “dormitory” intercropping, which is done by the Kapampangan Development Foundation (KDF), headed by chair Manuel Pangilinan and president Benigno Ricafort. It adds different level crops like vegetables and fruit trees for a total annual net income of at least P300,000. Rolan Mayo, a KDF member and Alyansa Agrikultura ally, intercropped lakatan banana with a one-year gestation period, and makes a P100,000 profit a year from the bananas alone.

For rice, the Philippine Statistics Authority states that net income is P16,540 with a 0.36 percent return on investment (ROI) for wet palay, and P24,159 with 0.53 percent ROI for dry palay. The typical rice farmer will never get rich. This monocrop rice system should be revamped with additional HVCs. Short gestation crops grown between planting periods restores soil fertility and increases needed income to get out of poverty.

HVCs like mungbean add P26,000 (122 percent ROI), eggplant P149,000 (70 percent ROI), sili P168,000 (205 percent ROI), and okra P178,000 (289 percent ROI) within a few months. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) must now take a new look at the revamped DA based on the Summit .

Budget support. For example, for the P5.1 billion recommended by the DA, the DBM approved only P1.5 billion. This is much less than the more than P40 billion budget approved for rice and irrigation. This must change.

Another budget item mandated by the 1995 Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act that was never funded is the market information system. The practically nonexistent requirement for a successful revamp system must also be funded. A revamp will fail without the required information.

If the government would not do the agriculture revamp promised by the Summit, the skeptics will say: “We told you so.” Given the recent good developments, we instead expect the long missing government action and commitment, instead of deadly indifference and insincerity. INQ

The author is Agriwatch chair, former Secretary of Presidential programs and projects and former undersecretary of DA and DTI. Contact is [email protected]


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