Why A Million Hectares
In a recent talk with agri-practioners from the University of the Philippines, Los Banos (UPLB), I was told of their disappointment over the seemingly wholesale invasion of agricultural products in the local market from China. This was coupled with the government plan to open a million hectares of agri-land for Chinese businessmen, despite of the existence or availability of local agri-talents recognized and hired by foreign governments and organizations.
To a large extent, I share their concern. UPLB enjoyed high international recognition as an educational institution producing top caliber agri-people. But the inability of the Philippines to elevate its agricultural productivity equal if not better than nearby countries somehow puts a dent in its image. Somewhere, somehow, the agriculture scenario seems not equal to the recognition anymore.
In retrospect, there are many things that could have been done but that is water tinder the bridge. A litany of “what could have been” is an input to the equation, but knowing where we are and where we want to go is a basic fundamental in planning. Not knowing where we are will not bring us anywhere.
Questions why agri-products from China and far-away lands are able to penetrate local markets at competitive levels must be answered outside of the off-the-cuff reasons of government subsidies and price dumping. Real answers must he given to guide local producers in their investment ventures and activities.
Determination of competitive areas, now and in the future, must he known so that government interventions and programs can be consistently pursued (and funded), and not be dependent on who heads the agri-bureacracy and other interim officials.
Unlike in other government initiatives, agricultural programs require long term nurturing commitment and sustained attention to bring in the projected economic results. There is no other way.
And this brings to fore the attendant political reality in Philippine agriculture. The structure and process had evolved into a quagmire that somehow negatively affects or stifles real development thrusts needed to create the momentum of growth in the countryside.
A case in point is the definition of high value crops as needed in a piece of legislation aimed at jump-starting and supporting commodities that are competitive and to generate additional income for farmers. As the legislative mill worked on it, high value crops were finally defined as all other crops outside of the mainstream crops of palay, corn, coconut, sugar and tobacco as each lawmaker involved would like to have crops in their respective legislative district be included in the definition. And that is but the natural way for the lawmakers to do to promote and protect the interest of their constituents.
This penchant of “covering all fronts” must be reviewed and that a priority order must be restored. A true recognition and appreciation of agri-truths must be in place as in the devolution of certain DA functions to local government.
There is no use in looking back at and wishing that agri-extension work be brought back to DA. The effectiveness and efficiency of the present devolved set-up must now be the end objective and no energy must be spent on wishing otherwise. While it is true that the present set-up did not work well in some areas, this is more of the exception rather than the rule.
And this is where the crux of the matter lies. The strength of the agricultural linkage is determined at its weakest link, and this is where our energies should be devoted.
A working partnership between the environment provider (government) and the participants (the private sector) must be established to bring about a fighting stance (competitive level) to meet threats coming to the local markets and make export inroads. It is in the process that technologies are generated to challenge and head-off emerging threats.
And government must play its role in resolving technology generation. Its intervention should hasten the creation and adoption of technologies suitable to local conditions meet market demands. Success of technology adoption is ultimately measured in terms of its acceptability to consumers and does not stop at producer’s application.
Use of imported technology whenever it meets local markets should be encouraged. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. We have to be willing to invest and pay for the cost of buying technologies that our constituents can benefit from. Market demand is so dynamic that we do not have the luxury of resear( h time. Market competition dictates that we work on where we have a comparative edge, and we let go of where we are least able to compete.
And this we have to benchmark and define our competitiveness. It is only then that we can head-off competition and be able to work on our own million hectares. We have the distinct home (court) advantage which foreign investors cannot take away from us.
It is only then we can truly claim it our own. And they need not come anymore.