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Tuesday, February 25, 2020
Home Op-Ed Columns Opinion on Page One There is hope for PH agriculture

There is hope for PH agriculture



Last of three parts
Before I proceed with the last part of this three-part series, let me state that I am not just the acting Agriculture secretary of the Philippines, rather, I am your servant-leader in agriculture.

It was at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat) that I began to believe in the concept of servant leadership, in which a leader is firstly a servant and secondly, a leader. Servant-leaders lead the flock that serves the people, and that means all the programs, projects and policies of the Department of Agriculture (DA) must serve the people.

So I am the Team Captain at the DA and its scientists, researchers and the rest of its staff are the players. It is not a matter of individuals simply working on their jobs and not minding the others. And at this point, we at the DA have a lot of work to do! So, teamwork is essential.

When I started heading Icrisat from 2000, we all dreamt, hoped and aspired, and we worked together with all our hearts and minds to bring the institution from a state of limited achievements to a state of unlimited options for institutional accomplishments. When we succeeded, we succeeded as one.

Hence, I urge all of us to unite behind our president, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, in finding more ways to make smallholder Filipino farmers and fisherfolk more prosperous, with the ultimate goal of doubling their incomes in five years. And if we achieve those, it is the general population that would benefit, as food would become more affordable and readily available. More employment could also be generated from a modernized and industrialized agriculture sector, contributing greatly to poverty reduction and unmitigated migration to the urban centers.

When we say farmers, they include those involved in crops, poultry and livestock.

At this point, we face the daunting task of reversing the slow growth of the agriculture sector during the past 10 years, where the average increase was only 0.1 percent per year. And that is not enough since our population is increasing by about 1.8 percent annually.

After my oath-taking in Malacañang on August 4, the President issued his first marching order, that is, to arrest the anemic growth of the agriculture sector. He said we should grow and develop the agriculture sector to respectable levels, and make our small farmers and fisherfolk prosperous.

So, our target is to grow the agriculture sector by at least 2.0 percent, reckoned from August 2019 to July 2020; and work our way up to 2.5 percent to 3.0 percent in 2021; and 3.0 percent to 4.0 percent in 2022.

I believe that can be done with the support of the entire DA family, in strong partnership with the farmers, fisherfolk, private sector, local government units, the academic and science community including state colleges and universities (SCUs), civil society organizations, and international funding agencies.

The role of SCUs in leveling up the agriculture sector should be scaled up in the next few years from this very moment, as a good number of them have demonstrated their passion in undertaking research, development and extension to help alleviate poverty in their areas.

Need for innovative policies
As your servant leader in agriculture, it is also my responsibility to effect collective action from the DA’s ranks and the other players, actors and stakeholders in the agriculture sector. And this could be achieved with policies, programs and projects that are innovative, transformative and consultative.

Also, the programs and projects should pass the five-way test — all should be productive, competitive, profitable, resilient and sustainable.

Furthermore, we will all strive to improve the capacities and efficiencies in the entire value chain, while integrating more small agricultural stakeholders in the process.

Being consultative also means getting inputs from the players, actors and stakeholders in the agriculture sector, including smallholder farmers and fisherfolk.

The private sector is also vital here, and they should take a key role alongside farmers and fisherfolk.

There is hope
And this early, there are entities and officials who have expressed their full support to the DA in getting things done.

I met last week with the board of the Land Bank of the Philippines, and their reception toward increasing lending to the agriculture sector was very positive. So, we will help LandBank hit its target to reach 3 million farmers and lend to them P3 billion in three years. We will augment this with guidance from the Department of Finance.

So let me express my gratitude to former Agriculture secretary and current Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd.

We will also give loan assistance amounting to P15,000 per hectare with zero interest and payable in eight years, covering rice farmers cultivating lands 1 hectare and below for the crop. This will be rolled out in Sept. 1, 2019.

Furthermore, we will enhance, strengthen and expand the Agribusiness Support for Promotion and Investment in Regional Expositions, an existing joint project between the DA and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and bring the program down to the provincial level.

And on Monday this week, the private sector was enlisted to contain the spread of suspected animal diseases.

For Mindanao, we will pour more resources and implement more projects in Mindanao, as it is more endowed with good soil and weather and other factors compared with Luzon and the Visayas.

We should thus plan to allot proportionate and higher budget to Mindanao commensurate to its contribution to the national economy.

Amid the massive work the DA has to undertake, President Duterte has a second directive: Do what is right and with legal basis.

In strongest terms: No to corruption! One strike and you are out! And in this regard, the DA will set up a strong and credible anti-corruption group, an internal ombudsman.

Definitely, there is hope, or should I say, great hope, for the country’s agriculture sector. But there is so much work to be done, and I cannot do it alone. Hence, teamwork and collective action are needed to at least take the agriculture sector out of the doldrums or arrest its anemic growth.

And as your servant leader in agriculture, the attainment of our dreams for the agriculture sector would also become our victory.

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Today’s Front Page February 25, 2020

Today’s Front Page February 25, 2020