“An agricultural life is one eminently calculated for human happiness and human virtue” – C.L. Allen
All is not lost for Philippine agriculture, instead experts predict it will give a big boost to the economy as laid out in the Philippine Development Plan under the banner program of the present administration’s Build, Better, More.
‘RECOGNIZED BUT STRUGGLES’
As Philippine agriculture tries to recover from the pandemic blows and as we continue to feel the brunt of the El Nino phenomenon, the agriculture, forestry and fishery sectors still contributed a significant 9% to the GDP last year. With its importance being highly recognized the agriculture portfolio was rewarded with a 198 billion pesos budget, 6% higher than the previous year, largely intended to fund basic and important crops such as rice and corn, high valued crops, and livestock.
The goal is to increase the food security index and assist rice farmers through the National Rice Program with a 31 billion pesos allocation and another 10 billion rice enhancement. Farmers shall avail themselves of assistance by way of subsidies and loans and the acquisition of more modern agricultural equipment. This is on top of the agricultural infrastructure development which is underway on a nationwide scale reportedly.
NEGROS AS FOOD BASKET OF THE COUNTRY
At the local front, the climate change that affects agriculture and fisheries is a major challenge to Negros is getting tougher by the day yet, 2024 is seen as a promising one for Negros agriculture even potentially becoming a food basket of the Philippines. To realize this, the provincial government undertakes various agribusiness initiatives to bring together all stakeholders and players in the province. One notable project is the “Agribiz Kapihan sa Negros” while provincial agri-planners craft a 5-year agriculture road map mainly focused on the future of sugar industry and the increasing demands for high valued crops such as rice, cassava, coffee, and cacao.
Governor Bong Lacson under his banner program Abanse Negrense highlights Negros agriculture in his 3-year plan to the province’s lawmakers for budget approval as the province re-invests for food security as his top agenda that includes water security, infrastructure, and health. The governor’s on-going infrastructure projects are integral to agriculture and fisheries where livestock and hatchery are to be developed with necessary physical development, and regeneration components.
BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT
In a glance, all efforts and measures undertaken at the onset of 2024 are consistent with the national agricultural plan on the road to economic recovery and food security. The budget was approved, systems are in-place, and I know some farmer organizations stand witness to these promising measures as they continue to find their way in their local communities.
However, there are a few important concerns I would like to highlight at both the national and local levels. First, there is the lack of a devolution process from the national to the local as reflected in the line agencies initiatives and project and program implementation that lacks coordination with local government, particularly the provincial leadership. Each one does its own plan as mandated but down the line, often, the same localities, communities and organizations become the recipient of both levels where programs are duplicated or doubled while others are deprived. A synergy and coordination need to be established to avoid this problem.
Next is a more pronounced inclusivity. Our beneficiaries – the farmers, ARB’s and other local players and stakeholders who are crucial to the success of the projects need active and direct participation at the planning stage. Blueprinted or not – the planning stage needs local and direct experience from down below farmers, ARB’s and local stakeholders that plans are not deemed spoon-fed. Moreover, the complicated and time-consuming compliance of requirements creates a demotivating atmosphere among recipients, especially the small farmers. They do not need to thread a needle for compliance. I speak of my personal experience that our partner producers constantly seek assistance even simple registration of government projects. With the advancement of technology many of them still struggle to cope with these imperatives.
Finally, downloading of budgets is overtaken by events where the rapid change of environment in agriculture and fisheries. Our agriculture’s declining state is aggravated by red tape, patronage politics, and alleged corruption.
This 2024 might be a promising year but our system seems to work on a more insensitive, cyclical, and cemented process. At certain times big time proofs present themselves but are constantly ignored, denied, or silenced.*