More needs to be done

The absence of protections against middlemen is precisely one of the causes of why the agricultural sector spectacularly failed.

About time Mr. Marcos Jr. relinquishes the agriculture portfolio is the emerging consensus of both his well-meaning and partisan critics.

To his credit, Mr. Marcos Jr. himself acknowledges he too needs to do it and says he already has plans to appoint a full-time agriculture secretary.

But he says he would only do so after inflation, now at a 14-year high, eases once his administration’s plans boosting agricultural output kick in.

“When this is fixed, when we have the systems in place,” he said in Davos, Switzerland.

If we’re reading him right, what he means is that he needs to first put in place strategic reforms before tactically resolving inflation. A matter of strategy versus tactics.

However, those planned systems are not immediately clear.

The question is, therefore: can we patiently wait for strategic reforms in the wake of the country’s single biggest economic challenge presently — food price-driven inflation surging faster than other countries in the region?

Many, therefore, are hoping Mr. Marcos Jr. will move faster than he intends, immediately secluding himself with his top advisers and coming up with what he believes will be correct long-term strategic reforms the Department of Agriculture needs.

Not only on long-term reforms but also on finally appointing a capable and effective full-time leader the beleaguered DA needs to tactically get reforms in place.

In short, Mr. Marcos Jr. has no time to lose. He must already have in place strategic policy directions for the agricultural sector so that whoever he appoints as DA secretary immediately gets his hands dirty.

As it is, again to his credit, experts initially welcomed Mr. Marcos Jr.’s strategic move to appoint himself DA secretary, with many hoping he would fix the notoriously politics-ridden DA.

As former economic planning chief Cielito Habito has it: “Only the President could get away with making the unpleasant and unpopular decisions long needed to fix the DA without fear of political backlash.”

Politics, however, is but one major issue plaguing the agricultural sector.

Another major issue, for instance, is the inadequate methods for technology transfer that’s doing in Filipino farmers, who simply lack the equipment and technology to enhance their farm outputs.

“What exactly needs fixing? Initiatives to improve the agriculture and fisheries extension system, i.e., the modes of delivery for improved technology, techniques, and practices to raise farmers’ and fishers’ productivity,” Habito says.

A strategic reform, which nonetheless needs time to prosper.

There is now, however, an economic emergency where many are undeniably struggling with inflationary prices and shortages in basic food items like sugar, onions, and now eggs.

Mr. Marcos Jr. certainly is correct in saying that inflation can only be licked by helping ramp up food production while at the same time minimizing food imports. But he needs to do more in the meantime.

He needs, for instance, more than ever to focus his energies on what can be quickly done against other issues not directly involving agriculture but related to it, like leveraging all his police powers against large-scale food smugglers.

He has expressed frustration on how smuggling has undermined the economy and the government’s failure to dismantle smuggling cartels.

“To be brutally frank about it, we have a system, but they are not working. The smuggling here in this country is absolutely rampant. So, it does not matter to me how many systems we have in place, they do not work,” Marcos recently said.

Aside from large-scale smuggling, he also needs his tactical wits about when disabling “unscrupulous traders and hoarders” which his administration partly blames for the unreasonable prices of, for example, onions.

The absence of protections against middlemen is precisely one of the causes of why the agricultural sector spectacularly failed.

Since local farmers are so desperately poor, these middlemen take advantage of them by purchasing their produce at extremely low prices and later selling it to consumers at a steep price. Mr. Marcos Jr. can do a lot here.

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