First rule in government spending: Why build one when you can have two at twice the price?
Sure, the government can turn deaf ear to the frantic call of a loose agro-industry alliance for regulatory relief against mindless imports of both agricultural inputs and finished/consumable products.
For instance, corn producers fear a further sag in corn prices from the already ridiculously low of P12 per kilo because of the influx of imports was largely dismissed.
The Philippine Maize Federation Inc. and the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. said the DA-Bureau of Plant Industry allowed feed wheat import influx during this current corn harvest.
Feed millers’ recent importation of reported 81,200 metric tons of feed wheat reportedly brought price to its current low.
But it cannot ignore the persuasive and sometimes loud, embarrassing, even intimidating voice of a global lender pushing reforms in the agricultural sector, the historical laggard of the economy.
Quite interestingly such consistent marginal output over the years made agriculture the only economic sector in the growth column this year as the 2019 coronavirus disease pandemic clobbered trade, industry, services, and other key high-flying sectors and consigned them to negative growth territory.
Historically, the sector averaged anywhere from two-percent to 2.5-percent growth annually.
It eked out 1.6-percent growth during the second quarter of the year while other sectors declined, data from the National Economic Development Authority showed.
“We are indeed pleased that the country’s agri-fishery sector performed well, despite the halt in major economic activities resulting from the enhanced community quarantine in Metro Manila, Luzon and other parts of the country,” Agriculture Sec. William Dar said.
As the economy’s traditional growth drivers decline, Dar said it is time for the agri-fishery sector to take the lead in order to kickstart increased consumer spending, and attract more needed investments in modernizing and industrializing the countryside.
Transforming agriculture into a dynamic, high-growth sector is essential for the country to speed up recovery, poverty reduction and inclusive growth, according to the latest report released by the World Bank.
Titled Transforming Philippine Agriculture During Covid-19 and Beyond, the report said transforming the country’s farming and food systems is even more important during the pandemic to ensure strong food value chains, affordable and nutritious food, and a vibrant rural economy.
“Modernizing the country’s agricultural sector is a very important agenda for the Philippines,” said Ndiame Diop, WB country director for Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines, said.
“Transforming agriculture and food systems is always challenging. But the country’s new vision for agriculture, it’s current thrust for diversification and use of modern technologies, and its effective management of food supply during this pandemic clearly indicate that the country is well-equipped to overcome the challenge,” Diop added.
Dar said the government’s vision is a food-secure and resilient country with prosperous farmers and fisherfolk.
“Realizing this vision will require dedicated efforts among major agri-fishery industry stakeholders, led by the Department of Agriculture, to continuously empower farmers, fisherfolk, agricultural entrepreneurs, and the private sector to increase agricultural productivity and profitability, taking into account sustainability and resilience,” he said.
The report suggests shifting away from a heavy focus on specific crops towards improving the overall resilience, competitiveness, and sustainability of the rural sector.
It noted that small farmers are having a hard time accessing inputs and markets for their produce, while buyers such as agribusiness enterprises and wholesalers find it difficult to get the quantity and quality of produce that they need for processing on a timely basis.
Government support can help overcome this market failure by bringing together buyers and producer organizations and providing support for the preparation and implementation of profitable business plans that benefit both parties, it added.
In situations where farmers need support to help them access markets and improve their livelihood, or when compensation measures are needed for farmers affected by trade policies such as the rice liberalization in the country, direct cash payments or cash transfers can be a better option, as practiced in many countries like Turkey, European Union, and the US, the report said.
These “direct payments” – doles or subsidies — have many advantages, such as giving farmers more choices and encouraging private sector development in upstream (inputs and agricultural services) and downstream (processing, marketing) markets, thereby helping farmers connect to these markets and opportunities.
Quite disappointingly but expectedly, however, the global lender was self-incriminatingly silent on the issue of foreign competition and crippling imports.
Trade relaxation and import liberalization are standard, pro-forma one-size-fits-all prescription for client-debtor states like the country in exchange for new loans and stretch-out of old ones.
Earlier, various agro-ndustry groups backed the DA’s decision to prohibit the entry of chicken imports from Brazil and called for a temporary ban on all imported chicken.
“It is imperative that we prioritize the health needs of the population where infections continue to increase and the fear of getting infected haunt them every day. We jointly support the action of the Department of Agriculture to temporarily ban the importation of chicken from Brazil,” the industry groups said in a statement.
“Though we appreciate this move by the Agriculture department as an effective preventive measure to ensure the safety of the Filipino people and the other nationals who reside in our country, we as an industry urge the government to have a more aggressive stand and move for the temporary banning of all imported chicken until the world is able to cross this pandemic,” the groups said.
“All food stakeholders should unite and support fellow local companies by buying their local produce and thus feeding our countrymen an all Filipino product from end to end,” the groups said.
“Policies should always prioritize the public good, and in this case and from this time onwards, we have experientially witnessed the importance of public health and should continue to treasure this hard lesson,” they said.
Among the signatories in the petition were the Philippine Association of Feed Millers Inc., United Broilers Raiser Association, Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc., Pork Producers Federation of the Philippines Inc., National Federation of Hog Farmers Inc., Bounty Group of Companies, The Philippine Eggboard Association Inc., Philippine Veterinary Medical Association, Philippine Maize Federation Inc., Local Poultry Integrator, Philippine College of Swine Practitioners, White Angel Farm Barauen Leyte, Growers of Chicken Essentials and Broiler Poultry Group.
Chicken Essentials Ph Inc., Pura Agri-Ventures and Development Corp., Morales Poultry Farm, Romarcom International Marketing Corp., Paritas Trading Corp., Asia Pacific Chartering Phil. Inc., Grainman Marine Transport Inc., Philippine Veterinary Drug Association, Philippine College of Poultry Practitioners, Araco Poultry and Livestock Corp., Jairah Poultry Farm Bacolod City, Chicken Oro Inc. Bacolod City and Association of Accredited BAI Registered Laboratories Inc. also signed on.
The industry groups issued the statement after the Department of Trade and Industry asked the DA to lift the ban on mechanically deboned meat from Brazil in anticipation of possible price hikes and shortage of canned meat products in the country.
They said local livestock and chicken industry could support the supply needed by the meat processors in order for them to supply the demands of the population.