Rice at P50 per kilo is about to become the “new normal” because of subpar production and ill-timed imports. Garlic prices have surged to impossible levels. The tree of life, the coconut, is threatened by an infestation that has so far ravaged plantations in many areas of Southern Tagalog. The tameness of the name, “cocolisap,” cannot obscure its horrific impact on coconut farms.
The Asean-wide integration next year is supposed to provide awesome opportunities for the Philippine agriculture sector. The reality is it would expose the brutal wages of agriculture’s long neglect and the urban bias of leaders past and present. And the integration would magnify the superiority of Thailand’s agricultural producers.
If the poultry and hog sectors have been growing, it is mainly due to the work of agri-business integrators and their countryside partners, the contract growers who belong to the upper middle class. The small farmers are out of these sub-sectors and backyard raisers have mostly been obliterated. For example, one needs P10 million to build one tunnel-ventilated broiler house that grows more than 50,000 broilers per crop. One needs at least P10 million to start a 100- sow hog farm. Aquaculture, just recently a boom sector, has run out of steam.
In short, the agriculture sector is down and out, and the few bright spots do not even involve the small Filipino farmers. The next round of GDP data gathering would show the marginal/diminished role of agriculture in relation to the overall economy. What was its last contribution to GDP growth? A pitiful 0.1 percent.
What has the new Sheriff of Elliptical, former Senator Francis Pangilinan, been doing about these myriad of problems? As the de facto head of the Department of Agriculture (his co-secretary, Procy Alcala is now a figurehead), Mr. Pangilinan should ideally confront the many problems of the sector and craft crash programs to arrest the slide of agriculture.
Ideally, he should be in the field right now, muddying his boots, fighting pests and infestations and giving hope to a sector so prostrate that today’s young farmers would rather shift to slave wages in the fast-food sector—or get low-paying overseas jobs—than to remain in the farms of their fathers.
According to an insider at the Philippine Coconut Authority, the new sheriff has been preoccupied with mundane things. Here they are in the words of the insider.
“The Joker in PCA has gone wild together with his entourage which includes a Usec and an Asec, two of the 30 staff he will bring to PCA. They have gone around the building and have chosen rooms. Rooms with view, rooms with toilet, never mind if the rooms have occupants. Many more are to be evicted from the chosen rooms.
It is a gloomy scenario for PCA employees who in the past administrations have been provided with decent working places for efficiency.
“Rooms are being repainted and people are working overtime. Even the room of the PCA administrator is being threatened by the Joker, who has come to like the room.
“Employees are suffering in silence. After the invasion of the rooms, will come the filling up of vacant positions. The first thing that the Joker asked for when he came in was the list of vacant positions, another sad scenario for PCA employees whose career paths will be delayed by the appointment of outsiders.
“Help. It is sad to see offices being invaded to satisfy the whims and caprices of the Joker.”
( For background, there was an earlier column in the Times that lamented the co-leadership at the DA of two “Jokers,” Mr. Pangilinan and Mr. Alcala. The column said that there was nothing in the CVs of the two that would them make them ideal fit for the DA leadership. The PCA correspondence merely adopted the “Joker” reference in that column.)
The agriculture is in a state of crisis and Mr. Pangilinan is busy with scouting for rooms with a view? Hard to believe but that, according to a PCA insider, is the serious preoccupation of Mr. Pangilinan at the moment. Plus, reviewing plantillas and vacant positions—the worst form of paper pushing at the moment.
An agriculture sector in a state of normalcy and equilibrium would be forgiving enough toward acts of bureaucratic whimsy. But ours is not, it is a sunset sector that is sliding down toward utter unproductivity. The sector is so beaten up that the Napoles Gang used farm-sounding and farm-oriented NGOs to vacuum up the SAROs of corrupt legislators. The Napoles Gang operated on the mind-set that agriculture is so deep down in the concerns of government that using phony agri-oriented NGOs as fronts for scams was perfectly OK. No one would mind.
Now comes, Mr. Pangilinan, the anointed savior of agriculture preoccupied with something else other than the crafting of crash programs to reverse the sector’s slide.
Come September, El Niño will make its presence felt. That would parch farms, which would make them impotent. The useless giant dams will dry up, crops would wither, the farmers would horribly suffer.
Next year, The Asean will be one community, and the economies of the region will be one big open market. Of course, the integration will open a lot of opportunities for countries prepared for the challenges.
But there will be major downsides and risks as well.
Agriculture, the economic areas where the Philippines is the least competitive in the region, will be the weakest link. That, and the lack of preparedness on the part of the agri apparatchiks, will probably eviscerate the local agriculture sector.