May 14, 2021
The Philippines has posted an “embarrassingly high” poverty incidence among farmers of 31.6% and a whopping trade deficit of $5.9 billion that makes it the only net food deficit country in the ASEAN5.
Private sector leaders led by the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI) deplored that the Philippines has been left behind by ASEAN5 (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries. That is despite its being equally endowed in natural resources and even in numerous labor.
Dr. Emil Q. Javier, chairman of the Coalition for Agricultural Modernization of the Philippines (CAM), an ally organization of PCAFI, said in a press briefing Thursday that Philippines’ food export just totaled to only $5.1 billion, a figure far exceeded by imports.
“All is not well in Philippine agriculture. We have food exports of only $5.1 billion but trade deficit of $5.9 billion, (That makes Philippines’) dubious distinction of being the only net food deficit country among ASEAN 5,” he said. The other progressive ASEAN countries are Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Singapore.
A “nearsighted” focus of government leaders on what can be accomplished during their short, political 6-year term has made Philippines the laggard among progressing neighbors, according to PCAFI President Danilo V. Fausto.
He urged the government to plan on a long-term basis, not on a reactive basis on just what happens in the global economy.
“Government leaders come and go based on their term. But we in the private sector are invested in. Our children and our children’s children depend on agriculture for business and livelihood. My appeal is for the government to consider agriculture not as charity but as a sustainable venture,” said Fausto.
As entrepreneurial founder of “Gatas ng Kalabaw” bottled carabao milk and other high-value dairy goods, Fausto said he has been in the dairy industry for 30 years.
Javier is optimistic though that the Philippines indeed has a modern farm sector ( of progressive farmers and corporate farms) with high productivity, profitable and competitive with imports. Having been a consultant for multinational pineapple processor Del Monte, Javier has known world-class operations of Filipino food producers.
“We can do better. It is the small farmers and fisherfolk (SFF) who constitute the majority that are dragging our averages down,” he said.
Fausto and Javier lamented that of the high 26% national poverty incidence as of 2018, the brunt of suffering goes to the farmers and people in the countryside. Poverty incidence among farmers tops at 31.6%; fisherfolks, 26.2% percent; and individuals residing in rural areas at 24.5%.
Javier is emphatic that government should adopt strategies that will make small farmers become “bigger” as they are organized into groups or clusters.
He said clustering is important because it will be the key to lifting SFF from poverty.
When clustered, small farmers can enter the global supply chain where margins are bigger.
They can negotiate for higher prices in big supermarkets, even multinational ones. They can also haggle to buy cheaper inputs when they buy fertilizers or seeds in bulk. Economies of scale can be achieved, bringing down cost, when services (like transportation, irrigation, post harvest facilities, storage facilities) are delivered in bulk.
“Farm consolidation will enable farmers to mechanize field operations to reduce costs; facilitate acquisition of inputs as well as credit; embark on value-adding (processing) at the community level; diversification into crops and other livelihood,” said Javier.
A former Department of Science and Technology (DOST) secretary and a recently awarded National Scientist, Javier stressed contract growing will be the key to making small farmers bigger.
“There should be promotion of contract growing as a business model. It involves buyer-driven value chains that are working in broilers, swine, banana, pineapple, papaya, tobacco, okra (industries),” he said.
He said contract growing provides incentives to agribusiness integrators (mills, food processors, exporters, supermarkets) to expand into other commodities.
Government should facilitate in “social mobilization of farmers” and helping in enforcement of contracts in a contract growing system.
Himself a contract grower (of hybrid rice and other agricultural produce), Javier said agriculture leaders especially in government (Department of Agriculture, Department of Agrarian Reform, and Local government units) should not give up their efforts to organize farmers.
“By organizing farmer associations e.g. coops, irrigators associations (IAS) agrarian reform beneficiaries organizations (ARBOs), the small farmers are in a better position to be partners/players in the value chains.”
“We should persevere (not give up!) in mobilizing, organizing farmers into cooperatives, IAS and ARBOs.”
PCAFI and CAMP has supported a strong LGU-led development of the agriculture sector.
Javier said the Province-led Agriculture and Fisheries Extension Service (PAFES), initiated by DA, should be strengthened as a national policy.
That is a mandate already firmly established by the Local Government Code of 1991 (RA 7160).
But capability building in LGUs is necessary to make this happen.
“Unfortunately, the municipal agriculture offices (MAOs) proved to be suboptimal operating units to deliver rural extension services for various reasons, the principal of which is lack of personnel, expertise, and operating funds (especially in third and sixth class municipalities)
“It is better to shift the locus of rural development planning, coordination and direction at the provincial level,” he said. (Melody Mendoza Aguiba)