On the So-Called “Food Security Crisis” and “Policy Failure” in 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. 

This is reaction to recent comments made by a so-called “think tank” and its executive director through mainstream media that the recent problems involving the supply and prices of pork is a sign that the Philippines is already experiencing a “food security crisis.” The executive director seemed to allude that the “crisis” is due to a “policy failure” on agriculture by the Duterte administration. It is no surprise that such negative commentary came from such “think tank” and its executive director since it has always painted every administration in such a bad light for not adhering to the Far Left ideology and its own version of “economics.”

The problems surrounding the supply and prices of pork were caused primarily by the African Swine Fever (ASF) affecting a large number of hog farms throughout the country. The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported a significant decrease in the Philippines’ total swine inventory, which saw a three million decrease from 12.80 million heads in January 2020 to 9.72 million heads in January 2021. The decrease in pork supply and increase in pork supply and the prices of other commodities resulted to an inflation rate of 4.2 percent in January 2021.

At present, the Department of Agriculture (DA) is trying to solve the problems in the pork industry, and pork supply and prices using two approaches. First, DA plans to help struggling hog raisers by providing loans amounting to P27 billion, P15 billion of which will come from the Land Bank of the Philippines (Landbank) while the remainder will be from the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP), while market vendors’ associations in Metro Manila will be offered zero interest loans as operating capital, with each market vendors’ association being able to avail up to P5 million as working capital at zero interest and payable within a period of three to five years. The other approach is the use of supply-side interventions to fill pork supply gaps and lower pork prices by transporting live hogs from the Visayas and Mindanao to Luzon, with DA paying for the transport costs, and lowering the Minimum Access Volume (MAV) to allow an increase in pork imports.

However, is there really a “food security crisis” and a “policy failure” in agriculture under the Duterte administration, as claimed by the so-called “think tank” and its executive director?

A “food security crisis” is a serious situation where an entire country failed to achieve its food sufficiency goals for one reason or another. In the case of the Philippines, the only commodity experiencing serious problems right now is pork, which is due to the effects of ASF in Luzon, the only part of the Philippines where there is a pork supply and price problem. The demand for pork is actually elastic, meaning consumers can readily shift to alternatives such as chicken, fish and beef once there is a problem with the supply and prices of pork. It should also be noted that although there is a decrease in the inventory of broiler chicken, the type being bred for chicken meat, the supply of chicken, as well as fish, vegetables, and rice and other grains are still sufficient and can meet consumer demand. It is therefore incorrect and alarmist for the so-called “think tank” and its executive director, known for being adversarial towards every single administration, to claim that the entire Philippines is already experiencing a “food security crisis” just because there is a problem with pork supply and prices.

On the question of whether or not there is a “policy failure” in agriculture, yes, I do agree that there is, indeed, “policy failure” on agriculture. However, the Duterte administration is not the only one to be blamed for it. Frankly speaking, President Rodrigo Duterte, his two Secretaries of Agriculture, former Secretary Emmanuel Pinol, who is now the head of Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), and  current Secretary William Dar, and other officials of this administration only inherited the problem from the past post-Ferdinand Marcos administrations, The agriculture industry situation that the Duterte administration inherited is too complicated that it will take time to sort things out and come up with necessary interventions to stabilize food prices and supply, and economic reform measures that will strengthen agribusinesses, secure food sources, achieve rural development goals and increase farmer incomes.

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 lowering of tariffs on rice, pork and other imported food items, and the rice tariffication law, which stabilized rice supply and retail prices, although farm-gate prices of palay (rice paddy) took a hit, but mainly due to traders and other middlemen deliberately buying at low prices from farmers while they engage in profiteering in the supply of local and imported rice. It also prompted the administration to give priority to agriculture and rural development when it comes to its expenditure, and policy planning and implementation.

Once again, I am urging 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 and implement a comprehensive 25-year National Food Security and Agribusiness Plan, and tell Congress, especially the Senate, to finally act on the enactment into law of the 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 measures such as the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) Act, and enhanced access to finance and access to local and foreign markets. 

Lastly, the government should consider 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 the so-called “think tank” and its executive director, It will be much better for the Duterte administration and the rest of the Filipino people to just ignore them, for they have nothing good to say and they are obstructionists and opportunists seeking to discredit every single administration in hopes of, through the use of democratic freedoms, making the masses turn against the government as their and their Far Left comrades’ way of stealing power and becoming the new political force in the Philippines.

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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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