Instead of an irreconcilable conflict between farmers / fishermen and government, common ground was forged at the National Food Security Summit (NFSS) on May 18-19. In addition, from May 31 to June 2, high-level public-private monitoring meetings were held on the four major programs of the agricultural banner and cross-cutting issues. Today we quote the synthesis of the NFSS presented at the closing of the Summit by President Emil Javier of the Coalition for the Modernization of Agriculture in the Philippines.
Unit points. The Farmers Fisherfolk Congress (FFC) and the NFSS have both called for decisive action on the farm crisis. Although many FFC farmer and fisherman leaders boycotted the NFSS because they believed the government would continue to ignore them, others actively participated in the NFSS. Fortunately, most of the main FFC recommendations have been adopted by the NFSS.
First, the NFSS has approved the FFC’s assessment of our predicament in farming. The NFSS said, “The Philippine agriculture and fishing sector has lagged behind in Asean. The Philippines ranked 7th just above Cambodia and Laos out of nine ASEAN countries, and 73rd out of 113 countries in terms of the Global Food Security Index. To the credit of the Department of Agriculture (DA) with its national pre-Summit consultations, this disturbing truth has been affirmed.
Second, FFC argued that the government should provide the necessary support and services to producers similar to our ASEAN neighbors. In addition, stakeholders should be protected by firmly opposing irresponsible import liberalization, which has resulted in suffering and an unfair level playing field.
The NFSS said, “Targeted government support to domestic producers should be to improve productivity, income and competitiveness. Ongoing reasonable protection of domestic producers with appropriate tariffs and the imposition of legal guarantees can be used if necessary. “
Third, the two critical missing agricultural extension and consolidation initiatives identified by the five Agri-Fisheries Alliance coalitions were advocated by the FFC. These initiatives were also fully supported by the NFSS: “The agricultural and fisheries extension system led by the province now institutionalizes the responsibility for the development of agro-fisheries of the provinces and regions. He delegates rural development to provincial governors. In addition, “the consolidation and consolidation of farms aims to improve economies of scale among small, fragmented farms and to facilitate the delivery of aid aimed at improving productivity”.
Two challenges. Two challenges threaten the planned transformation of the FFC and the NFSS. The first is the sincerity and commitment of the government. Self-fulfilling prophecy applies here. Being skeptical and expecting nothing will get nowhere. But working together with a positive attitude and renewed determination on the part of the FFC and the NFSS will result in success.
The second challenge is for the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to take a fresh look at DA. They have consistently maintained the DA budget at 1.5 percent of the national budget, although agriculture and sectors dependent on agriculture contribute more than 30 percent of gross domestic product.
When asked by Senator Franklin Drilon why the DA 2021 budget had been reduced from 70.8 billion pesos in 2020 to 66.4 billion pesos in 2021, Economic Planning Secretary Karl Chua replied: why the sector has he not helped farmers climb the income ladder? Agricultural growth is expected to be at least 2 percent. It’s not just about how much money is in the budget, it’s about how we allocate and use it. This is precisely the reason why the FFC and the NFSS were called together.
For example, the DBM recently refused the DA’s proposed high-value crop (HCV) budget of 5.1 billion pesos, and only accepted 1.5 billion pesos. But if we are to transform agriculture, we now need to add HCVs to our rice, coconut and maize areas, which occupy over 80 percent of our land. This HCV-free monoculture system condemns our farmers to poverty. There is little income, low labor utilization, and considerable damage to our soil and environment. For reference, of our 3.5 million hectares of coconut palms, 2 million hectares remain largely unused with no HCVs planted between them. With HCVs, income per hectare will drop from P 30,000 to P 250,000, unnecessary labor exploited with increased income and our ecology has improved. Political will aside, which skeptics are watching closely, DBM must strictly follow the president’s call and fund the new FFC and NFFS middle ground initiatives.
No money, no honey. Otherwise, this much-vaunted, long-awaited and necessary transformation of agriculture will, disappointingly, once again be rhetorical and not reality. INQ
The author is President of Agriwatch, former Secretary of Presidential Programs and Projects, and former Deputy Secretary of DA and DTI. The contact is [email protected]
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