[New Presidency Special Edition] Agriculture seeks end to three-decade losing skid


GENERAL TRIAS, CAVITE and QUEZON CITY—Benedicto Mayorga, 49, is used to being alone farming, tilling his two hectare land in Brgy. Sta. Clara here that bears sitaw, corn and okra. These crops come from seeds the municipal government gave.

Yet other concerns still hound Mayorga’s lonely farming. He’s short of cash to hire several farmers to till his land. A

(Photo from Get Real Philipines' website)

(Photo from Get Real Philipines’ website)

week is needed to reap the fruits of Mayorga’s labor.

And even if these seeds grow, he harvests them alone. Slow but deliberate, but his productivity is undermined.

Mayorga’s daily farming tale is a common story for the Philippines’ largest employment sector, agriculture. For three decades since the People Power Revolution, agriculture had never gained headway in propping up its contribution to the Philippine economy. Data show the sector’s share to gross domestic product is steadily decreasing.

What does this mean? Farmers like Mayorga are vulnerable to poverty’s symptoms like low income and less-quality employment. To avoid that low-income trap, Mayorga’s wife Celerina, 51, helps till the farm. Mayorga also drives a tricycle. They borrow money for their farming.

But pests threaten the Mayorga farm enterprise: “Nakakainis din iyung mga peste, mga kuhol at mga uod. Nalulugi kami diyan (Those pests, like snails and worms, irritate me. They are losing our incomes from farming),” Benedicto Mayorga said, like his once eggplant farming that entirely went for naught.

Bolstering the agricultural sector had been the push of previous presidents, Benigno Simeon Aquino III included. Aquino’s annual budget for agriculture even grew to record levels, but not the productivity of the sector and of farmers, government’s agricultural statistics data show.

It is Mindanaoan Rodrigo Duterte’s time to arrest the losing streak that five previous presidents had a hard time trying to win over. His alter-ego for the agricultural sector, Secretary Manuel Piñol, was told by the President to ensure available, affordable food and to get rid of systemic corruption at the Department of Agriculture (DA).



But weather continues to stomp at agricultural growth. Just recently, what drove down 2016’s first quarter growth in the agricultural sector was the elongated El Niño phenomenon plus typhoons when the year 2015 ended, says the Philippine Statistics Authority. (The crops sub-sector declined during the same period.)

Agricultural productivity is a “big problem” in the Philippines, says economist Filomeno Sta. Ana III. “The agriculture sector is a near failure.”

The World Bank, in a report on Philippine domestic employment, noticed widespread in-work poverty given the rising number of the underemployed, and that most of these in-work poor people are in rural areas. One area the World Bank recommended was “reallocation of labor from less to more productive activities, which involves labor moving from agriculture to services and industry.”

Low pay in the agricultural sector is at 61 percent, the World Bank report show, citing a labor force survey result. “There are numerous ‘bad’ jobs, which tend to be informal and concentrated in low-productivity activities, including in subsistence agriculture,” the World Bank’s Labor Market Review: Employment and Poverty in the Philippines wrote.

Nevertheless, Duterte’s Cabinet and stakeholders –during pre-inauguration consultations– have agreed to give the Philippines’ rural development sector another shot at redemption.

Sta. Ana thinks too much focus on rice undermines the growth potential of the sector. “But look at the farmer and not at the crop, especially since they can shift from planting one crop to another, and that they cannot solely depend on crop production.”

If government gives incentives and positive signals, “farmers respond,” Sta. Ana tells The Filipino Connection. Like farming loans, which Mayorga finds as important.

Adriano (46) and Madonna Bayron (43) did realize how costly farming is even if their land for rice and other crops is some 1.5 ha. big. They have yet to earn from their farming venture.

Madonna even said that it’s very costly, and they couldn’t afford it in cash, given they have just started their farming venture. The municipal government’s agricultural office offers a loan facility for them.

If Duterte wants to help us farmers,” Madonna said, “then by all means help us.”



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