As the House is still conducting hearings on the 2018 budget, I would like to reiterate what I have said in previous columns: the Philippines needs an Agriculture Initiative, which seeks to bring together both private and public sectors, to work on market-based solutions to the development of inclusive and sustainable farming. While I agree that the country needs infrastructure and support the well-funded “Build, Build, Build” program, agriculture must be given the same kind of determination and funding.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) only got a measly allocation of P54.2 billion for 2018, compared to P213.2 billion the DA asked for. Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol is correct in saying that the low budget allocation for 2018 will not allow him to roll out the new initiatives to increase food production and address the requirements for a bright future for agriculture.
What would the justified heavy budget allocation for agricultural productivity and profit accomplish? There will be more investments in agriculture, farmers will get easier access to finance, there will be lower unemployment, and supply/value chains will be created. As a consequence, some 20 million rural Filipinos can be lifted out of poverty. And the children of farmers will stop moving from rural areas to urban centers or become overseas Filipino workers. Isn’t this what the 11-point economic agenda of the Duterte administration had in mind? Fighting poverty in agriculture? If the DA budget allocation is properly implemented, millions can be given dignified lives.
Let me repeat what Mike Alunan said in a recent column “On The Contrary”: “Despite decades of agrarian reform, farmers now owning farms remain poor as land ownership does not guarantee better production and higher incomes.”
Heavy public and private investments into agriculture will allow the consolidation of farm land; farm consolidation is of great importance. The best models of Philippine cooperatives should be copied and cascaded. The adoption of advanced farming technologies can only be achieved by management systems that can focus on competitive land sizes, good research and development in coordination with existing research institutes in the country, supported by increased extension service to be provided by government.
As I and many others have mentioned before, increased agricultural productivity would necessitate improving the security of property rights by amending the antigrowth and development provisions in the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law and removing the restrictions on sale and conveyance on agricultural land patents. Nobody will invest in agriculture if land titles are not available.
Lawmakers must be ready to provide millions of farmers and farmworkers with a good alternative to their current situation; the agriculture sector deserves a much better future; it would be a win-win situation for all agrifood stakeholders. The time is NOW.
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