By Marita Moaje
MANILA – It is high time to reboot the Philippine agriculture now with the onslaught of the coronavirus disease pandemic, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said Tuesday.
During the launch of the “Plant, Plant, Plant” program in line with the celebration of the farmers and fisherfolk’s month at the Department of Agriculture central compound in Quezon City, Dar said the agriculture sector should be more responsive especially with the pressing issues faced by the country.
“This is the time and this is the occasion to say, let’s reform the agriculture sector and move forward to see the day that agriculture will be much more responsive and much more anticipatory with the kind of problems that we have today,” Dar said.
Dar said the agriculture sector has been particularly challenged in the past two months in terms of sufficiently providing food for every Filipino.
“Rebooting and reforming Philippine agriculture is key. We want an agriculture that is modern. We want an agriculture that is technology-based. We want to eradicate subsistence agriculture. We want an agriculture that is inclusive and market-oriented,” he said.
Dar said that general farming has been hard-hit, with 15 percent of farming and fishing activities in the countryside discontinued, although majority of them did their best to resume.
Another challenge faced by the agriculture sector during the initial period of the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was the movement of cargoes from the provinces to bring in food supply, which he said was eventually addressed.
Sales of produce also went down during the initial period as 35 to 40 percent were not able to market their produce.
Because of these situations, the prices of food commodities in Metro Manila became unstable.
The department, he said, then started to look at these challenges as opportunities and implemented quick response measures like the Kadiwa outlets, which sell fresh vegetables and other agri-fishery products that are cheaper than those sold at Metro Manila public markets.
“With all our advocacies, our networking, our facilitation we have reached the level of PHP5 billion pesos as sales for those produce that we have catalyzed, of course bringing into the mainstream more partners, private sector partners to buy those products and bring these to Metro Manila,” he said.
With the new normal, Dar said the agency has institutionalized a program to be able to connect the producers to the market, “so that those traders that are taking advantage during these times, during this challenging period will be set aside and let’s see to it that yes, the producers will get better prices for their products and the consumers will have affordable prices of commodities at their end.”
Dar added that they have proposed an additional PHP66 billion for the agency to the House of Representatives.
This is to enable them to put in place a new Philippine agriculture.
“Today, at this point in time, there is teleconferencing with the House of Representatives to discuss our proposal of additional PHP66 billion to put in place now a new agriculture, a new Philippine agriculture, and hoping that that proposal of PHP66 billion will be considered to really upscale the newer things that we would like to pursue under this new vision of ensuring food security and resiliency for the Philippines with prosperous farmers and fishers,” he said.
Meanwhile, young actor and singer James Reid was officially designated by Dar as the youth ambassador for agriculture and agribusiness during the launching.
Dar said the youth should be encouraged as well to get involved in farming, and he was surprised to know that there are young influencers promoting urban agriculture.
“Kailangan po natin ang grupo kagaya ng grupo ni James Reid para ang mga kabataan ngayon, mahikayat po sila na mag farming at mag-agri business (we need a group, such that of James Reid, to encourage the young people to get into farming and agri-business),” Dar said.
Reid said while he is new to the world of agriculture, his passion for sustainability brought him to accept the role and use his voice to support the farmers and fisherfolks in the country.
The young actor said the coronavirus crisis made Filipinos focus on what’s truly necessary and important, and that includes access to healthy and fresh food.
“It is our farmers and fisherfolk who are the ones that are protecting this right. They are the unsung heroes of our country. The backbone and heartbeat of our economy,” he said.
As youth ambassador, Reid is expected to inform the public of the main advocacies of the department focusing on its campaign on food security, food accessibility and affordability, and encourage the youth and other advocates on the important role of farmers and fishers and their contributions to the country.
Dar said the role of agriculture in the country will be as important as ever in any situation, like in this time of the pandemic.
“We need food, we need to survive, we need to be healthy and agriculture is the source of all of these resources, and let’s not forget our goal of increasing productivity and increasing incomes of the farmers and the fishers that we are serving for,” Dar said.
The department has programs for young people like the Mentoring and Attracting Youth in Agriculture (MAYA), wherein they will be hiring around 1,000 on-the-job trainees who will be farmed out in the various provinces and districts of the country for seven months.
Another program is the Business Incubation in Agriculture (BIA).
“They can get as high as PHP500,000. Ito ay grant, yung ideas nila ay pwede nila i-turn into a proof of concept. Yung capital access for the youth in agriculture pwedeng makahiram ng PHP500,000 at mag negosyo po sila, zero interest, payable in five years (this is a grant where they turn their ideas into a proof of concept. They can borrow up to PHP500,000 to start their business, at zero interest and payable in five years),” he said.
Overseas Filipino workers who want to upscale their farming or their agri-business may also avail of an “agri-negosyo program” where a micro-enterprise can loan for as low as PHP300,000 and as high as PHP10 million at zero interest and payable in five years.
Farmers and fisherfolk may also avail of the Sure Aid Recovery Project where they can borrow as high as PHP25,000 at zero interest and payable in ten years.
Meanwhile, Nemencio Concepcion, an outstanding farmer awardee from San Ildefonso, Bulacan, encouraged other farmers to never lose hope even in critical times.
“Sa kabila ng tayo ay inabutan ng pandemic na ito, sa katulad ko pong magsasaka mas dapat po nating pag-igihin ‘yung pagtatanim natin sa ating mga bukirin lalong-lalo na sa mga kabataan, pilitin nating mahimok ang ating mga kabataan para sila ay matuto na mag farming at ng hindi tayo umabot saw ala tayong makuhang suplay ng pagkain (despite the pandemic, I encourage my co-farmers to be more dedicated in doing our jobs, and the youth as well to learn farming so that we will not reach that point when we no longer have food supply).” (IA/PNA)