Mission critical: Reviving agriculture


Drowned in the cacophony of attacks against the Duterte administration’s war on drugs is a welcome development that everyone, even from the different sides of the political fence, should welcome.

It’s the survey results showing a significant drop in the hunger rate among Filipinos in the fourth quarter of 2018. The survey showed 10.5 percent experienced involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months, a significant drop from the 13.3 percent experiencing hunger in the September 2018 survey.

Likewise, the hunger rate for 2018 was pegged at 10.8 percent – the lowest since the seven percent hunger rate recorded in 2003.

Malacañang said the survey result on hunger is among the reasons why President Rodrigo Duterte continues to win the trust and approval of the Filipino people.

Former Special Assistant to the President Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go issued a similar statement. However, he raised the crucial concern that the government must sustain the crucial effort towards achieving food security.

A candidate for the 2019 Senate elections, Go vowed to support the administration’s programs to improve agricultural production in the country. As food is a basic need, he called for improved support for agriculture to boost productivity to ensure food supply and uplift the lives of people in the sector.

Go’s pronouncement needs serious consideration. Earlier Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno had admitted the agriculture sector was dragging down the country’s economy.

Diokno had noted that farm output sank 0.83 percent in value terms in the third quarter last year, a reversal from 2.32 percent growth a year ago and the first contraction since the 1.11 percent drop recorded in 2016’s fourth quarter.

Among other things, Go is proposing to establish TienDA Malasakit stores in key cities to provide consumers with fresh and cheaper food commodities. Conceptualized by the Department of Agriculture, a TienDA Malasakit store offers agricultural produce at farm gate prices.

Go is also proposing to provide farmers and fisherfolks with easy access to farm and fishery inputs, such as machinery, fertilizers, seeds, irrigation and low-interest credit facilities to increase their productivity.

In addition, he wants expert assistance to farmers and fisherfolk on business and skills training to help them further increase their income.

And for farmers and fishermen too old to work, Go has also floated the idea of establishing a national Farmers’ and Fishers’ Pension Fund to be initially supported by tariff from imported agricultural goods.

To encourage children of farmers to remain in the agricultural sector, Go is seeking to provide them with better scholarship grants and other similar incentives. In addition, he wants to include Barangay Agriculture as a subject in the curriculum of elementary and secondary school students.

Encouraging the younger generation to stay in the agriculture sector is essential in achieving food security. There were reports that say the average age of Filipino farmers at present is 57 to 59 and would soon retire. On the other hand, their children are abandoning agriculture in search of a better career.

Unless government policy can convince the younger generation that agriculture is a profitable concern, we would be facing a dire consequence in terms of food security.

For someone who is not an economist, Go displays a very good grasp of the situation on the ground and an extensive understanding of what needs to be done to address the country’s problems.

That’s probably because he has always been in touch with the common people in his over 20 years of serving President Rodrigo Duterte, starting during the stint of the Chief Executive as mayor of Davao City. It was Go who always attended to the concerns of the people seeking help from Duterte.

We have enough candidates with impressive academic credentials and political lineage, but nobody could probably match the wealth of experience of someone who had to deal with problems of the common people day in and day out for over two decades.

The Senate would greatly benefit from someone like Go who really knows the situation on the ground and who is in touch with the sentiments of the common people.

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