A great deal of public attention is now focused on the midterm election in May, while government keeps a close watch on market prices to ensure that they will not soar as they did last year. But a long-range program that must be given the fullest attention starting this year is a plan to make Philippine agriculture play a greater role in national development.
“The farm sector had virtually zero contribution to economic growth last year,” Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said last week. In 2018, agriculture grew by only 0.9 percent and contributed only 0.1 percentage points to the overall Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of 6.2 percent for the entire year. Had agriculture achieved its potential of 4 percent, he said, the nation’s GDP would have reached 6.5 percent.
This year, Secretary Diokno said, the Duterte administration is prioritizing the agriculture sector. The economic managers are now coordinating with officials in the agricultural sector
to carry out a program of growth through the allocation of greater resources, a focus on agricultural research and extension services, and assistance to farmers in production and marketing.
A big part of the program is improved access of small farmers to credit and loan facilities, Secretary Diokno said. The Land Bank of the Philippines has presented ways to carry this out. The Agricultural Credit Policy Council is stepping up its Production Loan Easy Access program to reach more small farmers in areas of the country still without banking services.
The country’s agricultural sector has long been cited as the great hope of national economic growth, with rice production and export as one of the earliest goals of many previous administrations. The Marcos administration had a Masagana 99 program that succeeded for a short while in exporting rice, but it soon broke down in the face of poor local production against vastly improved rice programs of Vietnam and Thailand. Today, we are importing most of our rice needs from these two countries.
And yet we have all the potential to produce our own rice – our vast fields, new high-yielding and dought- and pest-resistant rice varieties developed by our agricultural researchers, substantial rain and, in the dry season, irrigation water which is now provided free by the government. As for our fisheries sector, we have so many rivers and lakes and our thousands of islands are surrounded by seas. All these potentials have long been with us but we have not been able to develop and make fuller use of them.
Secretary Diokno’s announcement last week that this year, there will be a stress on agriculture raises hopes that finally this long-neglected area of national development will finally get its due attention from the government. It will start with the allocation of funds, which the DBM secretary has begun. It should now proceed to the Department of Agriculture and its many agencies
and field workers, and the government’s lending and marketing institutions.
The funding for agriculture may not be as substantial as that for government infrastructures in “Build, Build, Build” but if we begin an all-out agricultural development program this year, it will make a major contribution to national development, instead of the virtual zero contribution that it made last year.