First of two parts
When I was appointed acting Agriculture secretary in early August, I knew very well the challenges that confronted the country’s farming and fisheries industry.
I even believed the country’s agriculture sector was already in a “critical” stage, as it was growing at an average of 1.1 percent in the past 10 years.
That is not enough as the country’s population is growing at a rate of 1.7 to 1.8 percent annually.
For 2018, agriculture posted a dismal 0.56-percent growth, below the government’s target of 4 percent. The agriculture sector grew by 3.95 percent in 2017. In 2014, the sector grew by 1.83 percent, but slid to 0.11 percent in 2015. In 2016, the agriculture sector grew by only 1.41 percent.
Looking at the big picture, the agriculture sector was facing four major challenges: prices of rice and falling palay (unmilled rice) price; incursion of the African swine fever (ASF); infestation of the Fall Army Worm; and falling prices of copra.
The DA, as an organization, also had to be put in order so it could serve the Filipino people better, faster, and with greater precision.
The 15 priority points
So, in the first 100 days of my being your servant-leader for agriculture, I set 15 priority points:
1. Properly and efficiently implement of the Rice Tariffication Law;
2. Craft and implement a Crop Diversification Strategy;
3. Craft and implement a Pantawid Magsasaka Program;
4. Enhance skills of small farmers and fisherfolk, with emphasis on entrepreneurship;
5. Strongly implement climate change and disaster risk reduction programs;
6. Assist the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in strengthening its agriculture and fishery program;
7. Introduce the “New Thinking for Agriculture” as the revised Department of Agriculture’s vision and mission to attain a food-secure Philippines teeming with prosperous farmers and fisherfolk;
8. Sustain a massive information and communication campaign, highlighting countryside heroes;
9. Review and reorient existing DA programs and projects toward increasing the productivity, competitiveness and income of farmers and fisherfolk;
10. Reshape and reprogram the budget of DA for 2020;
Enhance partnership with state colleges and universities (SCUs) and the private sector, particularly in forging contract-growing and marketing agreements;
12. Strengthen the organizational structure of DA including systems and processes for efficient and effective governance;
13. Conduct a “Food Summit” with key stakeholders like farmers, fisherfolk, government organizations, nongovernment organizations, LGUs, private sector, SCUs, among others;
14. Coordinate/collaborate with the Department of Trade and Industry on price stabilization and complementation of agricultural products as well as strengthening quarantine measures against poultry and livestock diseases like the ASF; and
15. Review restrictive and constrictive policies on agriculture, fishery, agribusiness, credit, among others.
And like a blessing, the agriculture sector posted a 2.87-percent growth in the third quarter of this year.
I never expected that all of the 15 points would be achieved in my first 100 days in office. But those served as guideposts and beacons to start taking the country’s agriculture sector out of the doldrums.
Eventually, the ranks of the DA, including from its various agencies and bureaucracies, were inspired to take part in the collective action to move forward, that also saw LGUs, SCUs, the private sector, and farmers and fisherfolk themselves, among others, actively taking part.
Achieving President Duterte’s vision
One thing was also very made clear to the DA — that our aim is clear and simple: to “realize the vision of President Rodrigo Duterte for a food-secure Philippines and to double the income of farmers and fisherfolk.”
The first thing the DA accomplished is adopting and taking into heart the New Thinking for Agriculture as its revised vision and mission.
The New Thinking reorients stakeholders in the agriculture sector that the sector is inherently linked to other sectors of the economy. Hence, the New Thinking also changes the view or perception that agriculture is merely a food production system.
In addition, the New Thinking advances the notion that improving the welfare of the rural folks does not solely depend on the distribution of assistance to farmers and fisherfolk.
Second, the DA has moved forward the programs and projects funded by the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) as stipulated by the Rice Tariffication Law. Before the end of this year, the first P10-billion under RCEF will be fully obligated.
Third, we have minimized rent-seeking activities in the DA, which told horrors of how and where funds were being used, and how a number of units were used to extract money from private sector groups doing business in agriculture.
Those types of transactions have now been stopped and the use of regulatory powers has become transparent to avoid rent-seeking activities of those heading or holding key positions in the DA and its bureaucracy.
Fourth, we secured strong partnerships and sustained cooperation with LGUs and the private sector in addressing major issues such as the ASF and falling palay prices.
Also, the DA forged stronger ties with SCUs. The DA, through the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), forged a memorandum of agreement with SCUs in which the BAR will solicit, screen and evaluate grant research proposals from those learning institutions.
Truly, the SCUs, LGUs and private sector have proven their worth and willingness in being partners of the DA. Without their active participation in modernizing and industrializing our agricultural sector, our efforts will flounder.
And now, they also believe in the New Thinking to move forward!
We also touch-based with agricultural stakeholders and other rural development partners. At the end of the 100 days, a total of 12 regions have been visited for consultation and distribution of farm machineries and equipment, seeds, and other interventions worth at least P2.8 billion.
Fifth, we advocated for an inclusive, science-based, climate-smart and competitive Philippine agriculture. For fisheries, for instance, we are creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem for marine, fisheries, and aquaculture. With that in mind, we urged LGUs to strengthen their park management systems by adopting smart technologies.
Sixth, we re-established better rapport with members of the media, as they are also vital partners in disseminating information about government policies and programs.
And seventh, while the agricultural sector is not a neophyte in experiencing crisis, the past months and weeks gave us the opportunity to strengthen our determination and dedication in weathering the challenges.
In the next part of this two-part series, I will set forth the steps to move us forward beyond the first 100 days.
And may God continue to guide us!
To be concluded next Thursday