The last time agriculture had its version of springtime was during the time of the late Rafael Salas. His version of “Green Revolution” was amazing because of the breadth of its ambition and the sophistication (welded with practicality) of its programs. The people who were tapped to support the program were drafted from government personnel, who had to do the operational work, and the private sector, from where assistance was sought.
Let this fact sink in. Two future agriculture secretaries, Ed Angara, then from the private sector, and Ding Panganiban, then an up-and-coming Department of Agriculture operations man, served under Mr. Salas in that program.
The late Arturo “Bong” Tanco’s supervised food production programs – Masagana 99 and the Maisan program, were crop-specific versions of Mr. Salas’ Green Revolution. But the whole operating concept was the same. Craft doable programs, draft the necessary technical manpower for the implementation side and lock up the funding and resources needed to make the programs yield real results.
In those heady days of that springtime, rice farmers produced enough rice plus a small surplus. The Miracle Rice, the first strain to come out of the new seed bank, had miracle results. Farmers across the country breached the 100 cavans – per-hectare yield. Nothing was mechanized. It was still the plow, the harrow, the carabao and the sturdy farmer of impossible work ethic and fortitude. The difference was, the rice farmers had an institutional program fully supported by the government, from seed choice to funding to the ever-critical extension service.
It was downhill for agriculture after those glory years.
Agriculture had its worst years during the administration of Mr. Aquino and his savage anti-farm bias. He named jokers to lead the DA, one might even suspect that perhaps, it was to make sure of the DA’s failure. Look at the data and weep. With a budget of close to P90 billion, the Aquino-favored jokers at the DA reported less than 1 percent growth in 2015. No one asked what they did with the money. Not a quibble from the supposed ever-vigilant anti-corruption bodies.
For the first quarter of 2016, the agriculture sector plunged into the abyss – a negative 4.4 percent slide. The new agriculture secretary, Manny Pinol, probably posed one unanswered question to the exiting DA leaders. What did you do to sink the institution into such unfathomable depth of mediocrity? How much money did you squander to drive the sector down to 4.4 percent negative growth? Mr. Aquino’s hacks in the punditry have been vigorously defending his record. To be safe, no one has written about the Slough of Despond called the agriculture sector, which remains the economic activity of close to 30 percent of the population.
Mr. Duterte’s agenda to reinvigorate, to bring back life into the dying agriculture sector is most welcome. Indeed, only a “revolution,” a total overhaul, the setting aside of the orthodoxies and the infusion of dynamic blood into the DA’s leadership, could change a lethargic culture that has chained agriculture into stasis.
Where will Mr. Duterte’s agents of change start? The problems are so massive and the neglect of the sector so crippling that Mr. Pinol and the new leadership have to have the patience of Job. There is, however, an ideal base year from when the review of what went wrong should start. That year is 1995, the year of the country’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The senate ratification of the country’s accession to the WTO made in December of 1994 was followed by an announcement that it would be the equivalent of D-Day, deliverance day, for agriculture. It would increase productivity, boost agricultural jobs, lift up the fortunes of major agricultural producers and small farmers as well. And it would make the country an export powerhouse (for agri products).
Not one single aspect of those grand expectations became a reality. What happened was the reverse. The WTO exposed what was wrong – and is still wrong – with Philippine agriculture, basically the neglect and the under-funding, which made it one of the most uncompetitive in the Asean region.
The disaster that was expected to happen did really happen. The WTO accession just doomed the agricultural sector further.
The planned “ revolution” in the agricultural sector may be too late but it is still worth a try. The sector still involves 30 percent of the workforce at about 20 percent of all economic activity. Mr. Piñol has solid agricultural grounding and North Cotabato is a virtual laboratory on what is dismally wrong and what is hopeful about the sector.
His initial statements are laudable: free irrigation for small farmers, deficit spending if necessary just to make up for the historical slack in agri investments, zero smuggling of agri commodities, Keynesian approaches and Dutertismo’s law-and-order toughness, in one doable package.
And this: rice self-sufficiency. There is no dream greater than that.