July 25, 2020
Private stakeholders anticipate President Rodrigo Duterte’s new promise to the farm sector in his July 27 State of the Nation Address (SONA) in light of closures of micro small and medium enterprises (MSME) and poverty-worsening impact of COVID 19 to 4.1 million rural poor.
The Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI) and the Agri Fisheries Alliance (AFA) said they hope Duterte will consider alternative means of rescuing the entire agriculture value chain from the pandemic’s impact.
That is even as agriculture’s economic significance has been undervalued for decades despite its huge potential as a gateway for industrialization and economic recovery.
“Most of the MSMEs that are closing down due to the pandemic are in the countryside, adversely affecting farmers,” said PCAFI President Danilo V. Fausto.
PCAFI stresses that now that government’s financial resource is in dearth, it seeks support that does not necessarily require any budget but is extremely crucial just to tide the sector over.
“There are immediate executive actions that could be undertaken by the current administration that do not require budget. But it can immediately bring respite to the ailing agricultural sector. These are remedial steps that don’t go against our WTO (World Trade Organization) agreement,” Fausto said.
This refers to trade remedies sanctioned by WTO and government rules, particularly Safeguard Measures Act (2000), Anti-Dumping Act of 1999, and Countervailing Act of 1999. Philippines itself ratified such laws to uphold its farmers’ welfare amid trade liberalization.
“In the WTO agreement, there are winners and losers. Other countries have supported, protected, and subsidized their losing sectors. This is not true with the Philippines. The losing sector was advised to swim on their own and left to drown as local farmers and fishers cannot compete with the highly-subsidized imported agricultural products,” said Fausto.
“Imported products help more the farmers of importing countries to the detriment of our local farmers and fishers.”
Department of Agriculture has just rejected the poultry sector’s petition to stop issuance of import permit for chicken imports that caused chicken price to collapse to P30 per kilo during the COVID 19 lockdown.
Fausto said there are 26 instances of countries regulating their imports during this pandemic as reported to the WTO. But the Philippines has not acted on even one import regulation.
“Other countries have prohibited importation of chicken from Brazil citing as a reason that their dressing plants and manufacturers have COVID-19. The same could be made as an excuse to suspend importation of meat coming from the United States, New Zealand and Australia,” Fausto said.
Even if possible protest may arise from these countries if Philippines suspends chicken importation, this will have huge benefits to saving the poultry sector.
“A few months of suspension while negotiation is on-going could give enough elbow room for local producers to breathe, stay alive, and recover from the losses from the pandemic.”
AFA stressed Duterte must now prioritize agriculture amid the pandemic as it is a primary hope for economic recovery with its tremendous potential for growth.
“Agriculture contributes 33% to our GDP. It has an additional 10% contribution in food manufacturing and 15% in agriculture-allied services,” said AFA National Coordinator Ernesto Ordonez.
“The great majority of our poor is found in agriculture where our rural poverty is 25%, double Indonesia’s 13% and triple Thailand’s 8%. But our average agriculture growth rate over the last 9 years has been a disappointing 1.4%, compared to industry’s 6.6%.”
Ordonez said agriculture has always been a low priority in previous SONAs.
“During this critical pandemic time, agriculture must now be given its proper priority. We hope President Rodrigo Duterte’s 2020 SONA will reverse this downward trend.”
AFA is composed of five coalitions: Alyansa Agrikultura (AA) representing farmers and fisherfolk; PCAFI; Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines (CAMP) representing science and academe; Pambansang Kilusan ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK) representing rural women; and Agri Fisheries 2025 (AF2025) representing multi sectors.
AFA President Arsenio Tanchuling said that though construction and agriculture have been identified as the most important sectors to address during this pandemic. But agriculture gets a very small percentage of resources as compared to construction.
CAMP Chairman Emil Javier decries the 28-year delay in the release of the coco levy funds.
PKKK president Luz Bador said, “Specially during this crisis, rural women’s role should be appropriately recognized. They should get as much access as men to livelihood and support services.”
PCAFI lamented that DA does not solve rampant smuggling, either technical, undervaluation or misdeclaration, of agricultural products imported from other countries like frozen chicken parts, pork, rice and even corn, cannot be stopped.
“DA’s solution is to appeal to businessmen-importers not to commit smuggling rather than undertake concrete and immediate measures to catch these smugglers with the assistance of other law enforcement agencies and penalize them with the full force of the law,” said Fausto.
PCAFI said the worst impact of COVID 19 crisis will be on farmers who were recorded as of 2018 to be in the highest subsistence level.
Farmers consist 11.5% of the Philippine population. Those in the highest subsistence incidence also include fishers, 8.3% and individuals residing in rural areas, 8%.
The already food-poor people as of 2018 totals to 4.1 million rural residents, 3.2 million children, and 2.7 million women.
PCAFI noted that the nominal wage rate in agriculture was P276.03 per day as of 2018. But adjusted for purchasing power due to inflation, this is equivalent to a real wage of just P191.69 per day. End
“Agriculture constitutes the foundation and basis for food and nutrition security and provide raw materials for industrialization. These are important factors that allow progress to take place in a society.” Melody Mendoza Aguiba