Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio
“A high probability of maintained positive growth over the rest of the year.” That’s how the Laguna-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) sees the Philippine agriculture sector based on its performance in the first half of 2021.
The SEARCA released its outlook as the country has been under the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID 19) pandemic for two years now.
“Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have noted with keen interest how the agriculture sector has managed to achieve a positive growth rate,” says Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, SEARCA director. “However, the challenge of surpassing a 2% growth rate of the volume of agriculture production may possibly remain very elusive given the number of systemic challenges besetting the agriculture of the country.”
He adds, “Overall, what remains is the need to accelerate the transformation of the sector into a dynamic and highly productive sector through long-term institutional and programmatic innovative interventions to make the agricultural food system responsive to food security and poverty reduction targets.”
Agriculture plays an important role in the country’s economy, with crops like rice, coconut, and sugar dominating the production of crops and exports. According to the World Bank, agriculture employs 2.7% of the Filipino workforce as of 2017.
“Looking into the macro-level indicators, it is clear that the Philippine government performed fairly well given the peculiar challenges brought about by the pandemic and natural hazards,” Dr. Gregorio says. “The positive growth of the sector during the past years is surely a noteworthy achievement. Productivity indicators could have significantly plunged if no necessary and immediate interventions in response to the pandemic were put in place.”
The SEARCA head says that there’s still that long years of concern on the need to increase the gross value added (GVA) of the agriculture sector, and the country’s overall development remains.
“While we celebrate the success of the Philippine government in implementing programs and projects to help boost the agriculture sector of the country, what we need is a more science-based and forward-looking structure, institutional, and operational reforms in the agriculture sector that must be sustained across different administrations,” Dr. Gregorio says.
“In the second half of 2021, what is crucial are sustained mechanisms to reinforce a number of its institutional and policy reforms. Foremost of which is the strong political will being shown when the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) that would have wide-ranging effects in the utilization of market-oriented policies in the sector in the coming years,” says Dr. Gregorio.
Dr. Fermin D. Adriano, in his Manila Times column, considers RTL as “the most significant change in our agricultural policy landscape” Republic Act 11203 was signed in February 2019.
“The RTL removed the quantitative restriction or import ban on rice, and in the process, lifted the sole authority of the National Food Authority to import rice. It allowed private traders to import rice provided that they pay the corresponding tariffs (taxes) for the imported stocks,” Dr. Adriano explained.
Systemic, long-term interventions are needed for livestock and poultry sectors to make them sustainable, Dr. Gregorio says. “As threats like the COVID-19 pandemic and a string of zoonotic diseases remain, comprehensive evaluation using One Health/EcoHealth framework is needed to operationalize how the livestock and poultry sector could achieve its triple bottom line of profit, people, and the planet.
“Specifically, support is needed for improved access to better surveillance systems, integrated biosecurity measures, and technology-based operation systems. Consumers are likewise enjoined to be more aware and supportive of livestock and poultry products that conform with higher quality standards.”
According to Dr. Gregorio, the fishery sector shows promise, but more integrated infrastructure support is needed.
“The positive growth in the fishery sector could be further maximized with improved logistics and transport systems to increase competitiveness,” Dr. Gregorio says. “For years, the Philippines would benefit from sustained investments on an integrated infrastructure system that lowers production and transportation costs across the different supply chains related to the fisheries management areas in the country.
“Of urgent concern is the need to enjoin the private sector’s investment in cold storage facilities where various technological adaptations may be applied given that various designs have been made by more advanced countries on this aspect. This is a priority given that the fishing communities remain to be among the impoverished sectors in the country.”
MORE SUSTAINED SUPPORT
For the implementation of the province-led agriculture and fisheries extensions systems (PAFES), more sustained support is also required.
“In light of the Mandanas Ruling, there is a need for an expedited increase of the capacity of the local government units (LGUs) to implement agricultural development programs that must be technically sound and with high-level of social acceptance and participation. Hence, a more sustained support for the implementation of PAFES is needed to empower our LGUs,” Dr. Gregorio says.
The Philippines is one of the most vulnerable agricultural systems to extreme weather.
“As natural hazards and other disruptions are becoming commonplace, the agriculture sector needs to transform as resilient systems,” Dr. Gregorio says.
“Given the significant impact of typhoons and floods to the crop sector as experienced in 2020 or even in the years prior, agricultural farming systems must be resilient. This clearly requires an increased percentage of Filipino farmers having internalized a decision-support system that would make them more agile and effective in responding to natural hazards and other potential external disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic.
“These include improved access to climatic and weather data, stress-tolerant crop varieties, good agricultural practices, crop insurance system, extension system and modern technological support, and innovative financial capital,” Dr. Gregorio says.