Hunger and mismanagement

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If it’s not corruption, it’s incompetence. Both, however, had a merry marriage of malady, malaise and mutual ministrations in the last administration. If we factor-in both, apply macroeconomics and crunch out the numbers, the results explain most of the profound problems in agricultural productivity which, more than tax reform or fuel prices, have actually been the main causes of today’s unwieldy albeit slowly declining inflation.

That’s not speculation. That’s a fact. Of the available data on the basket of goods comprising the consumer price index which measures inflation, food accounts for a large 38.98 percent of all expenditures while fuel and transportation account for only 22.46 percent and 7.81 percent, respectively.

Since fuel is lumped with other utilities that together make up the total 22.46 percent, it’s effective impact as a stand-alone cost component is even less. Combined with transportation costs, both remain mere fractions relative to food costs.

Corruption in the management of our agricultural resources can increase inflation immeasurably by increasing food costs. While corruption might have abated somewhat since the last administration exited, given the bold stance of the Duterte administration on ridding the bureaucracy of crooks, absent true agriculturists in the Cabinet, ineptitude seems to have been passed on and such infernal inheritance remains institutionalized and continuing.

Allow us a quick skinny of its effects after which we can go through a litany of unsettled issues of corruption and stupidity in agricultural governance inbred from the last administration.

As of the third quarter, both staples, rice and corn, registered either negative production or steep declines from previous year’s levels despite it being the harvest season. One reason is the increasing percentage of importations to cover for shortages and high cost domestic supply. At the end of the Aquino administration import dependence was 5 percent. It’s gotten worse as import prices of rice remain from two-thirds to half of our higher domestic prices.

In a report entitled “Asia and the Pacific Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition” published by the United Nations, economic indices show the Philippines has not moved an inch towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger. Analyzed against the foregoing crash in food productivity, we see an agricultural economy so incompetently managed it cannot even feed itself.

And yet our agriculture officials insist there are adequate supplies of staples. Allow us to cite several instances of corruption that explain how, despite claims of supply adequacy, low production and hunger prevail.

When former President Benigno Aquino III needed an agriculture secretary he reached down and groped inside his crock. From a potful of classmates, friends and shooting buddies — the default vetting process under his administration — rather than pick an experienced agriculturist, Aquino chose a civil engineer unqualified and inexperienced in managing a complex agricultural economy.

Like wild parasitic Witchweed, soon enough, corruption started choking our crops.
Despite a year’s sufficiency of local garlic, a cartel of conspirators was quickly assembled and authorized to import to the detriment of local growers. In a separate instance, fisherfolk claimed over P200 million in pork barrel funds was involved in ghost deliveries. A third case involved the questionable construction of a P13.5-million corn trading and processing center.

A fourth involved the illegal procurement of pump and engine equipment amounting to as much as P116.92 million.

As a capstone, under Aquino’s Farm-to-Market Road Development Project, over P7.8 billion was allocated in 2013 and yet only P1.7 billion was spent by yearend.

Ranting and raving as he filed his senatorial candidacy papers, a losing presidential wannabe asked how Filipinos can cope on the pittance they earn against today’s inflation. Perhaps he should ask those who sat at the same table he dined at during the Aquino administration.

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