The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) released on Tuesday the latest GDP figures, which showed that the country’s economy expanded by 6.7 percent in 2017. Among all sectors, however, agriculture, fishery and forestry (AFF) contributed only 0.2 percentage point, far behind that of the contribution of services and industry, at 3.9 percentage points and 2.5 percentage points, respectively. Agriculture’s direct share in GDP remained unchanged at 10 percent.
The agriculture sector’s share in GDP has been declining since the 1960s, according to a paper written by former National Economic and Development Authority Director General Cielito F. Habito in 2005. From 30 percent in the 1960s, its share fell to 23 percent in 1981. Since then, the share of agriculture in GDP continued to decline and has never gone beyond 20 percent.
In his paper, Habito noted that the poor performance of the country’s agricultural sector was largely due to the failures and shortcomings in the policy and institutional environment within which it operates. He said this environment has been shaped by price-intervention policies, public expenditure allocations and institutional and governance weaknesses in the sector. The Philippines, he added, has also failed to provide adequate quantity and quality of investments in several key areas, such as irrigation and research and development.
Past governments had tried to address these problems by putting in place measures aimed at modernizing Philippine agriculture. In 1997 Congress enacted Republic Act (RA) 8435, or the “Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act of 1997.” Aside from specifying strategies for modernizing the agriculture and fisheries sector, RA 8435 also sought to prepare farmers and fishermen for the challenges of globalization.
Two decades after it was signed into law, some of the provisions in RA 8435 have yet to be fully implemented. For instance, the law called for the setup of Strategic Agriculture and Fisheries Development Zones (SAFDZs). The SAFDZs are areas within the Network of Protected Areas for Agricultural and Agro-industrial Development (Napaad) identified for production, agro-processing and marketing activities. Napaads refer to agricultural areas identified by the Department of Agriculture, through the Bureau of Soils and Water Management, in coordination with the National Mapping and Resources Information Authority in order to ensure the efficient utilization of land for agriculture and agro-industrial development and promote sustainable growth. The law’s implementation would have paved the way for the development of rural areas, where many of the poor are concentrated. But the national and local governments have not established these SAFDZs.
The Duterte administration has a chance to remove the obstacles to the development of the Philippine agriculture sector via the revision of the 1987 Constitution. Lawmakers continue to bicker about the manner by which Charter change (Cha-cha) should be done (constitutional assembly or Constitutional convention). But after the smoke has cleared, lawmakers must include in their discussions the concerns of the agriculture sector.
The agriculture sector has been left behind, judging by the latest GDP data from the Philippine Statistics Authority. This is lamentable considering that 60 percent to 70 percent of the poor live in rural areas. The President has promised to bring about change and to wipe out poverty. Duterte cannot do this if the government would continue to neglect a vital sector that provides not only food but also jobs to millions of Filipinos.