Prioritize agriculture (1)

Farmers suffer from the high cost of fertilizer, seeds and high post-harvest losses.

The situation in Philippine agriculture is as true today as it was 15 years ago.

As in past years, farm output were contracted in 2022 after farms were battered by strong typhoons while fertilizer prices hit historic highs.

On 9 August 2005, there was a gathering of scholars and veteran socio-political and economic advocates at the Bulwagang Claro M. Recto, Faculty Center, University of the Philippines.

It was the first time in memory that a proposal for a “program of governance,” including in the area of agriculture, was given such serious consideration by an impressive and cross-ideological gathering.

With all due respect, I presented the program to former President Joseph “Erap”’ Estrada, then a detainee, who considered its agriculture strategy as a blueprint for his Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino party.

Erap, at the time, was in detention as an offshoot of the EDSA 2 revolt. Later, however, all of those who had participated in it apologized to him, including former President Cory Aquino.

“Despite my detention and isolation I have endeavored to keep in touch with the continuing problems and the search for solutions for the crisis in our country,” the former President said.

“I devoted many hours to discussions with the humble and the learned, with my farm neighbors here in Tanay. I recently learned to surf the internet and read up into the wee hours of the morning,” Erap was quoted as saying.

He added that when he learned about the Blueprint for a Viable Philippines which was drafted by the scholars and launched at the University of the Philippines, he indicated being impressed with the “broad strokes that actually and clearly depicted the problems of the country.”

Agriculture situation
The scholarly discussions at UP touched on the perennial problems of farmers.

Despite the government’s claim of relatively high agricultural growth rates, there is no discernible increase in rural jobs and incomes.

The rates of unemployment and underemployment have gotten worse.

Farmers suffer from the high cost of fertilizer and seeds and high post-harvest losses.

The Philippines has become a net importer of agricultural goods, in stark contrast to the performances of net exporters like China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Philippine agriculture trails far behind its ASEAN counterparts in terms of comparative yield, production costs, and prices of agricultural commodities. Indiscriminate liberalization has threatened the survival of our farmers in the rice, corn, poultry and vegetable sectors.

Identified as a key problem is the absence of adequate budgetary support for agricultural modernization.

Lack of coordination, waste, and inefficiency hamper the effectiveness of our agricultural research and extension agencies.

The lack of dynamism and competitiveness in the country’s agriculture is also due to the continuing dominance of monopolies that control capital formation in the countryside.

The continuing absence of any planning framework to integrate and strengthen the various strands of the nation’s agriculture is bound to sink agriculture even further, and consequently drive more people to the cities.

Among the recommendations to push the farm sector to development and catch up with the country’s neighbors is to increase the rural folk’s access to productive resources.

The agrarian reform program must be completed by bringing back reformed lands into the circuit of commerce.

Agricultural modernization must be pushed through increased investments in irrigation, post-harvest facilities, and other support structure.

Ensure optimal access to rural credit by making available a P300 to P400 billion fund to at least five million of the poorest rural families.

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