A Policy Failure on Agriculture

The policy failure on agriculture is a result of administrations between those of Ferdinand Marcos and of Rodrigo Duterte ignoring the role being played by the agriculture and fisheries sector in ensuring food security, price stability and national economic development.

I am writing this in response to a news report by ABS-CBN dated February 12, 2019 that quoted erstwhile presidential candidate and now Senate candidate Manuel "Mar" Roxas.

The so-called "economist" from Wharton claimed that last year's record high inflation was due to a "policy failure" on rice, saying that the Duterte administration "should have imported rice earlier to avoid price spikes, which could have a ripple effect on other commodities." Aside from that, he included more sound bites with a seemingly populist tone, one of which was his claim that "helping farmers grow rice and providing them with post-harvest facilities is like 'prevention' while resorting to rice importation is a 'cure.'" Reading further through the news report, Mr. Roxas, just like other traditional politicians who are only good in saying sweet things but sorely lacking when it comes to concrete action, did not offer any pragmatic solution on how the Philippines can achieve rice sufficiency.

Yes, I do agree that there was, indeed, policy failure on agriculture, but the Duterte administration is not the only one to be blamed for it. Frankly speaking, President Duterte, Agriculture Secretary Pinol and other officials of this administration only inherited the problem from the past administration, where Mr. Roxas was one of the key officials and a member of the then President's "inner circle." The situation they inherited was too complicated that it took time for them to sort things out and come up with, for now, necessary interventions to stabilize food prices and supply.

The policy failure on agriculture is a result of administrations between those of Ferdinand Marcos and of Rodrigo Duterte ignoring the role being played by the agriculture and fisheries sector in ensuring food security, price stability and national economic development. Proof of this is the lack of consistent, continuous and pragmatic programs and policies that could have strengthened, modernized and mechanized the agriculture and fisheries sectors, and transformed farmers and fishermen from being dependent on mere subsistence into successful, profitable and competitive agro-entrepreneurs. Add to this the fixation of past policymakers and economic managers on pursuing manufacturing and service sectors, with them hoping to slowly move the rural population to key manufacturing and services business areas- a move that compromised rural development and food security.

It is only now that the effects of the policy failure of past administrations are being felt, most recently the food price-driven increase in inflation. Good thing the economic managers of the Duterte administration were able to stabilize the situation by adopting supply side interventions such as the lower of tariffs on certain imported food items and the rice tariffication law to address the situation. It also prompted the administration to give priority to agriculture and rural development when it comes to its expenditures, and policy planning and implementation.

I urge the Duterte administration not to stop with those plans for agriculture and rural development. As an agricultural economist, I believe that it is time for the government to draft a comprehensive 25-year National Food Security and Agribusiness Plan, and National Land Use Plan, both of which are vital in attaining food sufficiency and price stability. Aside from those plans, there is still the need to transform Philippine agriculture and fisheries into modern, mechanized, world-class and competitive industries that are being manned by farmers and fishermen who are trained and developed into becoming agro-entrepreneurs, and enjoying incentives being offered by the proposed second tranche of the TRAIN Law, or the TRABAHO Bill, and enhanced access to finance and access to local and foreign markets. Lastly, I urge President Duterte to reconsider the idea of ending the pursuit of and replacing the failed land reform program, as the forced breakup and redistribution of productive farms, most of which ending up at the hands of individuals who lack the ability to manage the lands properly, resulted to a decrease in farm productivity and uncontrolled conversion of agricultural lands to non-agricultural purposes.

As for Mr. Roxas, being a former Trade Secretary and government economic manager, he contributed to the policy failure in agriculture. Before he accuses the Duterte administration of failing to handle the rice supply and price situation properly, he should look at the mirror first. So far, his claim of being an "economist" is nothing but a claim, with him offering nothing but words that sound good when given a different spin by media outlets that seem to have him as their favored candidate.

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About the Author
Benedict is an agricultural economist, academician and writer. He has gained experience and expertise in various fields of economics, business, political science and public relations after through professional ventures in the academe, and in the public and private sectors. He has authored or co-authored key publications on topics ranging from agriculture and food security to global affairs and politics.
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