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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Food security above all

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
July 5, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

LAST WEEK, hours before Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was sworn into office as the 14th President of the Philippine Republic, a governance strengthened by popular choice, she was seen delivering her ten-point agenda at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila.

Arroyo vowed tough economic reforms seen “to hurt the rich to benefit millions of poor”.As I was watching her on national television, I had fancied butting in with the line “Food security for the nation, Mrs. President. Above all”.

Agriculture is the bulwark of this country’s economy, but greater agricultural productivity has been hampered through the years by bottlenecks such as a weak technology base, price distortions, weak property rights structure, constraints on land market operations, insufficient public support services and poor governance.
Reports show that the virtual abdication of past governments from agriculture is indicated by the fact that while most of the country’s work force was employed in agriculture and the sector contributed about 21.5 percent to gross value-added, the budget allocation for agriculture in 2001 was only P12.8 billion or 3.4 percent of government spending.

Of the annual budgetary appropriations, less than 40 percent “have been historically allocated for productivity-enhancing expenditures such as irrigation, research and development, fishery extension, and other support services”.

The Bureau of Agricultural Statistics recently posted the industry’s 8.16 percent growth in the first quarter of 2004, the highest rate recorded over the past 15 years. At current prices, gross value of output reached P192 billion, up by 13.83 percent from last year’s level. This is good news, but the challenge here is to have this phenomenal growth felt by the country’s 26.5 million hungry mouths.

Arroyo won the Cebuanos’ trust because we see her as a working president. After giving her a fresh mandate, the Cebuanos are now looking forward to her decisiveness translating into programs for food security.

The nation hungers for real development programs bent on increasing the country’s capacity to be self-sufficient in food and providing land to the landless as these are linked to national security, and of government policies that do not discriminate against farmers.

Reports say the country has had rice shortages due to typhoons, flooding and drought, forcing it to import vast quantities of the staple. Her leadership must realize that conversion of agricultural lands into either subdivisions or industrial estates to skirt land reform, coupled with unsustainable farming practices like the use of chemicals, contribute further to the drop in rice production.

This leadership must also realize that without massive government financial support, there is simply no way that the Philippines can launch significant production of high value crops, much less attain comparative advantage in producing them.©