MODERNIZING agriculture will improve the country’s competitiveness, increase farm productivity and boost farmers’ income, according to Sen. Cynthia Villar.
Villar, head of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, lamented that the country has been slow in modernizing the agricultural sector because of the lack of specialized credit and mechanization support to farmers.
“I am reviewing the implementation of the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA) because it seems slow. AFMA calls for the allocation of at least P20 billion a year for agriculture modernization-related programs and projects. And yet data cite that the Philippines lags behind its regional neighbors on farm mechanization—a far fifth placer to Japan, South Korea, China and Thailand,” Villar said at the launch of Yanmar Philippines, a company that manufacture farm equipment such as tractors and harvesters, in Pasay City.
“The Agriculture and Fisheries Mechanization Law (AFMECH) will help promote the development and adoption of modern, appropriate, cost-effective and environmentally safe agricultural and fisheries machinery and equipment to enhance farm productivity and efficiency to achieve food security and increase farmers’ income,” she added.
She noted that the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) cited the need for government to invest in research and development to increase agricultural productivity and boost job creation.
“We really need to improve the global competitiveness of our farmers. The country’s integration into the ASEAN Economic Community starting December this year will bring about cutthroat competition, thus we have to be globally competitive,” the senator said.
Former Finance Minister Cesar Virata agreed with Villar that government should invest more in agriculture.
He said the country still has plenty of idle arable land and if these were tilled, the Philippines may reverse the trend of being a net food importer.
“The biggest factor adverse to the development of agriculture is widespread withdrawal of investment due to agrarian reform,” Virata said. He noted that “agrarian reform has not produced results for a long time thus should not be extended.”
He also cited the need to develop viable agri-business models and adopt systems that will curb harvest losses.
Hideaki Ikezawa, president of Yanmar, said the Philippines can improve its standing as the world’s eighth biggest producer of rice by using more machines. The country regularly imports at least 500,000 metric tons of rice for its buffer.
Ikezawa said the Philippines can be self-sufficient in rice but farmers have to shift from manual planting and harvesting to machination.
When it comes to agricultural mechanization, the Philippines is at the bottom list of rice producing countries in Asia, barely edging out Myanmar, which is the least mechanized in the region.
The Philippines only has 12,000 tractors, compared to Japan which has two million.