Food security in the Philippines is under threat.
Despite efforts to increase farm productivity, crop production in over 13 million hectares of land grew marginally to 88 million metric tons in 2012, valued at P797 million using current prices. Even for rice, which is a basic staple of Filipinos, unmilled rice production reached a mere 18 million metric tons, resulting in only 11 million metric tons of rice.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) estimates that, at an average consumption of 115 kilograms per person per year, production should at least reach 20 million metric tons to feed close to 100 million people. The difference so far has been covered by importation, primarily from Vietnam.
There are bold statements that the Philippines will be self-sufficient in rice but continued exposure to natural disasters threatens this goal. Indeed, the effects of climate change have not made it easy on the farmer who has to contend with hotter dry seasons or wetter rainy seasons, even in areas previously unaffected by unpredictable weather conditions.
Yet, there are persistent efforts to enhance agricultural as well as fisheries productivity. Enabling laws have been enacted to introduce reform in this sector. This includes the Organic Agricultural Act of 2010 as well as the Agri-Agra Reform Credit Act of 2009.
However, despite the law compelling banks to allocate 10 percent of their loan portfolio to the agricultural sector, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas reports that there is a huge shortfall in lending, forcing banks to comply with their legal mandate by channeling funds to infrastructure projects in the agricultural sector.
Perhaps the failure of government initiatives to grow the agriculture sector is due to the focus on productivity rather than entrepreneurial activity. Investments in better technology, improved irrigation systems, disaster-resistant crop species, and even in better farm-to-market roads are not resulting in expected outcomes if the mindsets of farmers remain only in land cultivation.
While these are all important inputs, it may not be enough to ensure better agricultural performance. If economic activity is to prosper, it is necessary for farmers and their next generation kin to be equipped not only with farming skills, but also more importantly, with entrepreneurial skills. There is a strong sense of urgency as many of our farmers are aging, and there is no one taking their place.
Recognizing the importance of agripreneurship, the DA released the Philippine Agriculture (PA) 2020, a strategic plan for poverty reduction, food security, competitiveness, sustainability, as well as justice and peace.
It is succinctly summed in its aim to be a “farmer-focused, market-driven agriculture that attempts to transform traditional small farmers into entrepreneurs.” It is thus clear that support must be provided to make that transformation and to give the agripreneur a fighting chance to rise above poverty.
Investing in agricultural entrepreneurship is one answer to the poverty gap that exists in agriculture-based economies. It makes sense to help farmers become entrepreneurs who can spot opportunities, create value, manage risk, generate resources, and commercialize their goods and services.
Sadly, many farmers have been exploited and have become worse off with globalization. Thus, the shift to fairer participation in the value chain of large food companies is a step in the right direction.
Meanwhile, efforts of civil society organizations and well-respected entrepreneurs to make the agricultural sector more appealing by their strong advocacies have not gone unnoticed. Pockets of success are emerging, thereby spurring interest.
With even greater concerted effort between government, industry, society, and the academe, the agricultural sector can be revitalized. As that happens, we are able to help each other rise above poverty and be a strong force to contend with.
Dr. Santiago is a Full Professor at the Management and Organization Department of De La Salle University. She teaches Corporate Social Responsiveness, Sustainable Organizations, Leadership in Organization, Family Business Management, Human Resource Management, and Finance in Education. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.