Philippine agriculture has been a part of national conversation. Recently, people discussed issues, concerns, and even opportunities of agriculture. This article talks about the ongoing concerns which hinder the development of agri sector.
Written by Rey Gamboa
One of the key concerns of our agriculture technocrats about raising the productivity of Philippine farms is the slow adaptation of farmers to technology, which includes mechanization and the utilization of new farming techniques.
Ironically, the passage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) during the time of former president Corazon Aquino only served to plunge emancipated tenant farmers deeper into poverty because the mandated five-hectare plot allocations were too small for the farmland to become profitable – and competitive – without the necessary tools for agriculture modernization.
In fact, today, almost 80 percent of farms are less than three hectares in size. Many farmers are finding it difficult to survive on the income of their farms, and have fallen deeper into debt, and have given up parts – if not all – of their land to encroaching urbanization.
Mechanization is virtually impossible when you have farms that are too small, and are even situated far apart from each other. Then, too, is the problem of raising money for mechanical inputs like tractors and threshers given the limited capability of farm cooperatives.
No wonder that agricultural productivity has yielded lower volumes through the years, and its contribution to the country’s gross domestic productivity has continued to shrink. Rising importation of cheaper agricultural products has further threatened the viability of these small farms.
To save Philippine agriculture and, therefore, ensure that the country has enough food supply for its citizens and future generations, the government must seriously commit to modernizing farms to increase harvest yields and raise farm incomes to encourage growth.
An agricultural roadmap should take into consideration all the existing limitations that farmers face, plus the hurdles to agricultural modernization already mentioned including poor credit availability, the threat of land conversion, and continued inadequate technical advice and support.
Just like we have defined export processing zones, the government should determine which areas are most suitable to agriculture, and provide disincentives for uses other than agriculture to solidify tracts of farm land into more contiguous areas.
A nationwide program to strengthen farm cooperatives must be given the proper support through the deployment of more social workers and agriculture extension workers. Not one single farmer must be left without a cooperative.
Farm cooperatives must be results-driven through productivity targets, thus encouraging them to solve problems through community work and with the support of the local agricultural extension office and the community, including local business.
The government’s infrastructure program must prioritize the requirements of the agricultural sector – from building dams that will ensure water supply reliability, to expanding the irrigation networks, to constructing more roads from farms to the market, to popularizing windmills for power supply, and to strengthening research and development in seeds and farming technologies.
The roadmap should also include goals to increase the land area devoted to farms in designated agriculture regions. Ensuring the increased income of farmers will encourage them to purchase additional lands to cultivate.
Clearing the road to mechanization
As mentioned, an important key to farm yield improvement will be the amount of mechanical interventions employed in agricultural communities. With stronger cooperatives, banks should look more favorably towards lending for the purchase of farm equipment like threshers, tractors, harvesters, mechanical dryers, and other necessary machinery.
Likewise, private sector involvement could solve the perennial credit problem that farm cooperatives face. With more liberal agricultural sector lending rates, businessmen who have the required collateral can be encouraged to borrow for farm equipment rentals.
Similar come-ons should be given to existing and interested manufacturers of farm equipment. This could be modeled after the successful Comprehensive Automotive Resurgence Strategy (CARS) program, which provides rebates and other incentives to manufacturers that are committed to increasing local content of finished products.
Likewise, tariffs of imported farm machinery and parts should be biased towards encouraging the growth of local capability. This said, a review on the existing import policies as well as the absence of import restrictions on agricultural machinery is in order.
We need a comprehensive national program for agricultural mechanization, one that will be in support of a bigger program to revitalize the nation’s agricultural sector, including those for fishing and livestock growing.
Smart empowered farmers
We should set goals that will bring our farmers out of the poverty trap that they are currently in, and transform them into smart farmers who can think for themselves and are driven to solve the problems they encounter.
This means having the skills to manage their farms like entrepreneurs, with the capability to lower production costs and increase the value to their harvests through the utilization of market-based supply and demand knowledge, as well as farming innovations.
Farmer groups in other countries employ a database of what crops are being planted in other farm communities, and are able to use this knowledge to determine supply and prices during harvest time. This protects them from possible losses, and could help influence stable market prices.
This should be what Filipino farmers – and the whole Philippine agricultural sector – should be doing. Our farmers have to learn how to use smartphones to access important agricultural data, and to communicate with other farmer groups in determining their course of action.
And every step of the way, from planting, to harvesting, to marketing, the government must be aware and ready to lend support. Only by consciously striving to enhance Philippine agriculture can we realize food self-sufficiency and lower prices.