Policy, investment reform seen key to making farming sustainable; water management crucial amid scarcity

THE SUSTAINABILITY of the food system will depend largely on policy and investment reform as well as a focus on key crops and water management, a senior economic adviser to the Department of Agriculture (DA) said.

Fermin D. Adriano said during the first leg of the National Food Systems Dialogue Tuesday that the priorities should be rice, coconut, yellow corn, fisheries, sugar, vegetables and selected fruits, as well as water supply management.

Citing the Food and Agriculture Organization, Mr. Adriano said a sustainable food system “delivers food security and nutrition for all in a way that will not compromise the economic, social, and environmental bases to generate food security and nutrition for future generations.”

“Success in these crops and agenda will reduce poverty, nutrition will be vastly improved, resulting in a dramatic increase in the overall welfare not only of the rural folk but also ordinary Filipino consumers,” Mr. Adriano said.

“We should focus on implementing trigger policies or focus areas which have the greatest ripple effect on other subsectors of the economy,” he added.

Mr. Adriano said that reform for the rice subsector is already underway with Republic Act (RA) No. 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law and should be sustained and defended amid claims that the law did not achieve its goals of lower rice prices and higher yields.

“Being the staple food of the Filipinos and (planted) to more than a fourth of the cultivable areas in the country, rice contributes a fifth of the gross value added (GVA) in Philippine agriculture. The Rice Tariffication Law must be sustained and defended,” Mr. Adriano said.

The law, signed in 2019, liberalized rice imports, which have to pay tariffs. It also created a Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund to help modernize the rice industry.

Mr. Adriano said reform for the coconut subsector will soon be implemented with the release of the coconut levy fund as authorized by RA 11524 or the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act.

“The poorest of the poor tillers are in this subsector and the crop is cultivated in around a fourth of the total farmlands in the country. However, its contribution to the agriculture GVA is only 4% during the last 10 years, thus resulting in widespread poverty among coconut farmers,” Mr. Adriano said.

Mr. Adriano said the development of yellow corn cannot be separated from the poultry, livestock, and fisheries subsectors since the crop is used as animal feed.

“Around 60% of the production cost of poultry, livestock, and fisheries (is accounted for by) feed. Without bringing down the cost of corn, production costs in the three subsectors will remain high and uncompetitive,” Mr. Adriano said.

Mr. Adriano said fisheries are be a cheap source of protein for consumers, while water supply management will ensure adequate quantities for agricultural production.

“The growing scarcity of fresh water will constrain agricultural activities and production. We should push for better water utilization, construction of water impounding facilities, and better waste governance systems,” Mr. Adriano said.

Mr. Adriano also pushed for initiatives in the sugar, vegetables, and fruits subsectors since these products can create jobs in the countryside and increase incomes.

“Sugar is used as an input for processed products, which can help generate more jobs in the countryside with the promotion of agricultural processing. Meanwhile, vegetable production does not require large farmlands to generate a decent income,” Mr. Adriano said.  

The DA has set a 2.5% growth target for agriculture in 2021.

The Philippine Statistics Authority said in May that the value of production of the overall agriculture sector contracted 3.3% in the first quarter of 2021 with the livestock industry hit by the African Swine Fever outbreak. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave