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Dar invites more Indian investments for agribusiness

Acting Agriculture Secretary William Dar encouraged foreign and local investors to look at possible opportunities to help develop the agriculture industry in the Philippines, mainly through elevating the agribusiness sector.

Dar, during his speech at the Philippine-India Trade Consultations last week in Makati City, said he wanted the Indian government and agriculture-related companies to invest in the Philippines.

“There are still possibilities for unlocking the potential of agriculture and agribusiness in the country. We have to have just the right development strategy, which we now have put in place, anchored on the ‘New Thinking for Philippine agriculture’”, he said.

The New Thinking strategy aims to empower farmers, fishers and stakeholders from the private sector to increase productivity and profitability through agriculture sustainability and resilience. It has eight paradigms: modernization of agriculture, industrialization of agriculture, promotion of exports, farm consolidation, road map development, infrastructure development, higher budget and investments for agriculture, and legislative support.

“The very vision under that [the program] would be a food-secure Philippines with prosperous farmers and fisherfolks. From this vision, we have to have an overarching [move] on increasing productivity and incomes with objectives of sustainability, resilience and many others,” Dar said.

He lamented that the growth of the Philippine agriculture for the last ten years has been “very anemic,” averaging 1.1 percent, while population growth rate was at 1.8 percent annually. This, he said, has translated to “deficiencies” in terms of food security for the more than 108 million Filipinos.

The agriculture sector accounted for about a tenth of the country’s gross domestic product in recent years. But Dar said, “if you include agribusiness contributing 25 percent, so the total of 34 percent is such a huge contribution to the economy.”

The Department of Agriculture (DA) was aiming to achieve 3.5- to 4-percent growth in the farm sector by 2022, surpassing the population growth rate of 1.8 percent.

“I have targeted the growth of PH agriculture for my first year as the new servant leader in agriculture beyond the population growth rate. So by the end of July 2020, we should have reached 2-percent growth. The second year, we are targeting between 2.5 to 3 percent, and then the third year we should be targeting between 3.5 to 4 percent,” Dar explained.

“When I was secretary of agriculture 21 years ago, even just for a year, the growth of Philippine agriculture was 9.6 percent and that has never been surpassed up until today.

But the environment today is more complex than before, and I believe that opening up in terms of really encouraging foreign [businesses] like India we will have the opportunity to unlock the potential of Philippine agriculture,” he added.

For the rice industry, Dar said the DA was largely banking on the full implementation of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Program (RCEP), citing that about 70 to 75 percent of the department’s total budget goes to rice programs and projects.

The RCEP allots a P10 billion a year for six years, which will be utilized to provide different forms of assistance to the country’s rice farmers such as the development of inbred rice seeds, distribution of rice farm equipment, and skills enhancement. It is a component under Republic Act 11203 or the “Rice Tariffication Law.

Private links, export strategy

Meanwhile, the DA is also seeking partnerships with the private sector to venture into agribusiness to boost the country’s farm sector, Dar said.

“We need now to have more agri-industries in the rural areas [and] food processing facilities in the countryside. We should be having more of these facilities where they are produced. Don’t need to bring them again to Metro Manila. Let those rural industries be located in the areas where they are mostly produced,” he said.

“This is where the private sector from here and abroad are encouraged to come forward and really partner with us, and have their own foreign direct investments and do agribusiness in many ways,” Dar added.

He also said the DA would also push for consolidating farms nationwide.

The DA would also adopt an “export development strategy” that would go beyond exporting agricultural products that have excess local production, Dar added.

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