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[OPINION] Wise move by the president-elect

 / 05:14 AM June 24, 2022


It was a wise move from President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to head the Department of Agriculture (DA) considering our current food and agriculture crisis.

“As for agriculture, I think the problem is severe enough that I have decided to take on the portfolio of secretary of agriculture … It is also a practical matter so that things move quickly because events of the global economy are moving very quickly,” he said during a recent press conference.

He could be pertaining to the pact between Thailand and Vietnam to decrease their rice exports, which could thus affect our already inadequate supply. And of course, there is still the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which has led to increasing prices of fertilizer, oil and wheat.

But does it have to be the president to lead the DA?

What we have reported here during the last 19 years is clear: agriculture has suffered from poor governance. This cannot be attributed to only one factor, such as the DA management.

It also has to do with neglect from our national government. The DA budget is severely limited. Its head is not among the key secretaries in the Cabinet economic cluster.

The sector achieved a nine-year average growth rate of just 1.6 percent, way lower than industry’s 6.8 percent. This, despite agriculture’s contribution, including processing and ancillary services, to gross domestic product at 35 percent.

We are the only net importer of food among our Association of Southeast Asian Nations neighbors. Rural poverty exceeds 30 percent, double that of others in the region. And yet, the neglect of agriculture continues today.

There is no other person who can change this sector’s misfortunes other than the president himself. The DA secretary is often reluctant to argue with other department secretaries because of lack of authority, and sometimes, even interdepartmental courtesy.

Much of agriculture misgovernance can be traced to lack of (harnessing) private sector participation and overcentralized planning. In this current crisis, most countries are focused on food security. We should do no less.

It is the president who can best lead this effort. No other official can harness the other departments affecting agriculture in a unified and concerted way.

The role of LGUs

But there is one additional condition for us to succeed. This initiative must be carried out effectively at the local level. Following the president ‘s lead, each mayor must now lead agriculture development in his or her own jurisdiction. He or she must treat the municipality as if it were a country, and undertake the corresponding strategic analysis.

Food security and self-reliance must be implemented systematically. We must go back to old-school practices like home vegetable farming and backyard livestock raising.

More importantly, the municipality must have an assessment of its own food security and take measures to safeguard it, harnessing, of course, the private sector.

One good example is Mayor Eduardo Guillen of Piddig, Ilocos Norte. He is well-known and admired for his farm consolidation success. The latter addresses a major problem of disjointed small farms, which lack economies of scale and cannot survive from imports in a globally competitive world. With this consolidation, state of the art machineries are used to improve productivity, reduce postharvest losses and raise farmer incomes.

To copy this success on a national scale, the government must launch an extensive capability-building initiative to empower local government units (LGUs) nationwide, with the mayors personally leading the way.

A significant part of LGUs’ additional funding—thanks to the Mandanas-Garcia ruling—should be used for this purpose.

Just as the president has taken the wise move of leading agriculture development on the national scale, the mayors must likewise do the same on the local level. This is the only way we will be able to overcome our current agriculture and food crisis.