Proactive policies backed by sufficient funding hold the key to improving the state of agriculture, according to an agriculture economist.
“Our agricultural sector has been neglected. And now it’s being given attention because the President himself is the [Agriculture] secretary, giving emphasis on this important housekeeping to agriculture, and the budget has now increased. Now, we really have to make sure that the downloading of these resources, of the budget, will go to the right projects,” said Danilo Fausto.
In 2023, the agriculture sector will receive a 39.2-percent increase in budget amounting to P184.1 billion for the strengthening of banner food programs and irrigation services and to ensure food security and agricultural productivity.
“With the bigger budget, there are so many things to be done. We have to make sure that the producers will make money. Agriculture is not just production for us. It involves the entire value chain―post harvest, packaging and logistics distribution down to the retailer,” said Fausto.
“The farmers, they do not have the capacity to do this. They should have assistance or partnership with those that are in the value chain. So that is where the traders will come into the picture. But the farmers should have more say in the marketing of their produce. They should not allow the traders to dictate the prices nor the profit generated from the production,” he said.
A case in point is the recent issue over onion production and importation. “For onion, year-in, year-out, we are short. The area of plantation is about 18,000 hectares. If we increase it to 25,000 hectares, we are more or less sustainable. We can be sufficient in onion. But let me clarify that sufficiency is different from security. Food security is providing for the future needs which we are not yet capable of,” he said.
Fausto said the lack of post-harvest facilities such as cold storage makes it difficult for farmers to hold on to their produce and sell at the right price. The issue then is sustainability which is beyond production, he said.
He said rice importation is another tricky business. Many times in the past, the importation volume grossly exceeds the actual deficit. Fausto said that in 2022, the government allowed the importation of over 3 million MT, while basing on the current per capita consumption multiplied with the rice-consuming population, the deficit should be only 1.8 million.
Surplus in any importation, whether agricultural commodity or otherwise, tends to depress the price of the commodity in the market, according to Fausto. The government should have strategic buffer stock of all major commodities that it can hold on to, so if and when prices spike, it can release the buffer stock to the market to stabilize prices, he said.
“We are not sustainable because of the fact that the policies of importation are killing the producers. We need to import only what is needed. The very basic problem is we do not have data to be able to manage it properly. If you cannot measure it, you cannot plan ahead. An information network should provide the decision makers with the data and may propose the right action relative to the situation,” Fausto said.
Fausto said the sustainability in rice production would entail an increase in hectarage of irrigated lands. Right now, only 64 percent of paddy rice plantation is irrigated. There is a clamor from the farmers to increase irrigation by at least 10 percent to 15 percent to expand coverage. That will render palay farming, more or less, sustainable, he said.
“By increasing the farmers’ income, their purchasing capacity increases and so is the propensity to consume. Spending is good for the economy,” Fausto said.
Access to credit
Fausto said another hurdle to agricultural sustainability is the lack of access to credit. Many financial institutions see agriculture as a risky business. He said many accredited lenders are happy to just pay the penalty under Agri-Agra Law, instead of lending.
Republic Act No. 11901 lapsed into law on July 28, 2022. Since agriculture is priority sector of the Marcos administration, the law is expected to be more responsive to the financing needs of farmers, fisherfolk, and agri-based micro, small, and medium enterprises as part of the Philippine Sustainable Finance Roadmap, he said.
The law mandates an agriculture, fisheries and rural development financing system to improve the productivity, income, competitiveness and welfare of farmers, fisherfolk, agri-based workers and organizations and other target rural community beneficiaries.
“On top of credits, other barriers to sustainability include consolidation of land and connection to the market. These are things that should to be put in place to be sustainable,” Fausto said.
Fausto said while climate change disrupts the processes of production, its ripple effect goes beyond agriculture and environment. It spans the entire economic system of a country. Admittedly there is no precise prescription to battle climate, but to live sustainably, he said.
“Good farming practices are important to sustain production goals, notably in farming but in fishing as well. The closed season, implemented by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources for certain marine species gives the protected species a good lead time to repopulate. It prevents an occasion when all the species will be lost due to overfishing. That’s a grim scenario not only for stakeholders but also for the consumers,” he said.
Fausto said sustainability, to be sustainable, should be a lifestyle. “It should not be seasonal, but ingrained in daily living,” he said.