In my column last Friday (January 20), I discussed the overall framework of modernizing and industrializing the country’s agriculture sector. I underscored the use of the Inclusive and Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) strategy that has four powerful principles: resiliency; that markets motivate growth; that innovation accelerates growth; and that inclusiveness ensures that the poor benefit through their collective action. Also, I described the importance of the pillar of inclusiveness in enhancing agri-industrialization.
I will discuss in this column the 10 action points for a competitive and market-oriented agriculture, which the Duterte administration should work hard on guided by the “4 x 4 x 4” or “four-cube” framework (discussed last week).
From IMOD’s principles, the InangLupa Movement (which I founded and currently head) conceptualized the “4 x 4 x 4” or “four-cube” framework, which has four pillars: inclusive; science-based; market-oriented; and resilient. It has four sustainable development goals: food security; economic security; national security; and environmental security.
The four major objectives of the “4 x 4 x 4” framework are: productivity; profitability; competitiveness; and sustainability, especially for the benefit of smallholder farmers, fisher folk and their families.
To put into place the “4 x 4 x 4” framework, the following needs to be addressed: enabling mechanisms; plans and programs; and legislative agenda. I would like to discuss each of those components but I will reserve such for a future column because each item has to be discussed thoroughly.
Going down to the “nuts and bolts” to make the Philippine agriculture sector modernized and industrialized, there are 10 action points to create a competitive and market-oriented agriculture. So the equation is simple: a competitive and market-oriented agriculture equals a modernized and industrialized farming sector. It cannot be the other way around and the components also cannot be mixed up.
To illustrate; just imagine if the government invests billions of pesos to modernize and increase rice production by 200 percent only to find out the Philippines does not have market for the excess production in the international market. And I even mentioned in a past column how a few local government units conducted livelihood programs for home-based tocino production only for the participants to find out there was excess production from established firms and themselves. Thus the need for a market-oriented agriculture!
The 10 actions points are actually issues that for so long need to be addressed by the government in collaboration with the private sector: Irrigation; infrastructure and other logistics; credit and other risk management tools; mechanization; marketing and agribusiness; sustainable land management; research and development (R&D); adaptation to climate change; empowerment and institutional capacity development; and reformation of the bureaucracy.
Addressing irrigation does not simply mean accelerating the building of irrigation systems to achieve 100-percent coverage for all farms in the Philippines. If that would be the single-minded objective, conflicts would arise on water usage for domestic use and power generation, among others. So it is also important to address the issue of water saving and harvesting, and the rehabilitation and protection of watersheds.
Infrastructure and other logistics refer to processing centers, other post-harvest facilities, farm-to-market roads and communication systems that all together will hasten production and delivery of goods. Communication systems should also include web-based information that can be accessed by both farmers and the end-users of agriculture products.
Credit and other risk management tools include insurance and government subsidies so farmers can be motivated to pursue innovations that have potentials to set off modernization and industrialization of agricultural initiatives. If farmers do not have access to credit and risk management tools, they will be trapped forever in “subsistence farming” and perpetual poverty, because they would not be willing to take risks in adopting innovation in production and value-adding. Credit and other risk management tools also help farmers deal with the effects of climate change.
Mechanization is a very basic component of modern and industrialized agriculture, because it allows farmers to make more efficient their operations through the use of various farm machineries. Also included under mechanization are post-harvest facilities to process and dry raw farm produce into a form that can be stored for longer periods of time, and the processing facilities to create finished products with more value added.
Marketing and agribusiness also emphasize the role of the public sector and international organizations in promoting businesses and even business climate reforms, including assuring returns to investments for farmers and agripreneurs. Perhaps one of the main concerns here is to make farming in general profitable or a good business venture.
For sustainable land management, the key is to improve and rejuvenate soils for the cultivation of suitable crops according to available soil mapping. The creation of “agroecozones” should also be based on color-coded land/crop suitability maps. A nationwide soil health mapping activity is necessary for precision farming.
In the area of R&D, there needs to be a concerted effort to identify the pipeline agenda and technologies needed by small holder farmers to boost their production and incomes. In the Philippines, there is also a need to accelerate the dispersal/upscaling of proven farming technologies to the end-users, and to cooperate with smallholder farmers in testing developing technologies.
When it comes to adaptation to climate change, assisting farmers to use flood- and drought-resistant crop varieties is not enough; what needs to be done, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization, is to build resilience to climate change and this starts with sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystem restoration. Adaptation to climate change thus should also take into account sustainable land and water resources management.
The second to the last action point is empowerment and institutional capacity development to harness the potential of human capital like addressing skills and values of farmers including the young generation and other key stakeholders, and developing relevant educational curriculum and innovative instruction or training systems. This actually boils down to giving farmers adequate training and doing farming enterprises collectively, and improving the curriculum for students taking agriculture or agribusiness.
The last action point, which may be the most important, is the reformation of the bureaucracy. This should encompass appropriate legislations/policies as the major building block for supporting the implementation of the aforementioned action points. The Department of Agriculture (DA) must institutionalize a strong partnership/collaboration with local government units, agricultural colleges and universities, private sector and civil society organizations.
Reformation of the bureaucracy may also include choosing the most competent people to head the DA’s agencies, bureaus and regional offices especially those involved in R&D and extension services. As much as possible, a bureaucracy that has been active in helping farmers nationwide be kept away from political influence. People with doctorates and scientist ranks with good field experiences are among the best candidates to head government bureaucracies that deal with farm R&D and extension. Please keep politicians away from such bureaucracies!
The 10 action points may somehow look daunting to implement or realize, but the Philippines does not have a choice but to pursue a competitive and market-oriented to achieve a modernized and industrialized farming sector unless we want to experience food shortages.
There is also a need to double or triple the budget of the DA so it can fully implement the 10 action points. More importantly, the implementation of the 10 action points should take into account inclusiveness, for there is really a need to nurture the hand that feeds the nation, so farmers and fisher folk could continue doing so, lest we all starve!