Duterte on the Agri industry during the first half of his presidency

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The Philippines is an archipelago comprising more than seven thousand islands and covers a total area of 300,000 square kilometers (30 million hectares). There are approximately three hundred thousand square kilometers of land in the Philippines and almost 2,000 square kilometers of water. The country relies heavily on agriculture and has a total area of 30 million hectares, of which only 47 percent is used for agricultural purposes. The country is blessed with fertile land, abundant natural resources, diligent farmers, and reputable agricultural research institutions. Agriculture is a substantial contributor to the national economy of the Philippines. It employs over 40 percent of all working Filipinos, contributing roughly twenty percent of the total contribution to the country’s gross domestic product on average. In 2020, the industry contributed around 1.78 trillion Philippine pesos worth of gross value added (GVA), proportionate to a part of the country’s gross domestic output equal 10.2 percent (GDP).

The agricultural industry, the primary engine of economic growth in the country’s more rural regions, where the vast majority of the population resides, is an essential component of inclusive growth. Agriculture is still a significant driver of employment, accounting for approximately 36 percent of the total labor force in the country.

When former President Rodrigo Roa Duterte took office in June of 2016, one of the promises he made for his people was to empower the country’s agricultural sector. He said he is committed to enhancing the financial security of the country’s agricultural and maritime communities. According to him, the initiatives funded by the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund would ensure the continued success of the country’s rice business (RCEF). The money from this fund would be used to help Filipino farmers become more productive with the money they spend. This would allow them to better compete with their neighbors in Southeast Asia. He added that the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) would be pursued to deliver safe, inexpensive rice to all Filipinos. During one of his meetings with the Department of Agriculture, he gave them directions regarding the event of food shortage. First, he gave orders to the National Food Authority (NFA) to increase the purchase of palay from local farmers to increase the buffer stock for unexpected events from 15 to 30 days’ worth. The NFA would also purchase palay and sell an additional quantity of standard milled rice, with daily sales averaging 20,000 bags of 50 kilograms each. The free financial aid for small farmers whose low prices of palay have negatively impacted would be increased to a total of P3 billion per year. There would be a benefit for 600,000 rice producers. Sanitary and phytosanitary import clearance procedures should be rigorously implemented by the DA (SPSIC). The imported rice stock would be subjected to a preliminary inspection by the agency to guarantee its high quality and safety for customers and to protect crops from disease and pests.

When Covid-19 penetrated the Philippines, there were several problems arising or worsening other than a health crisis. Throughout the COVID-19 epidemic, there was a massive uptick in farming activities along the rice food commodity chains due to the worry that there would not be enough rice. Agriculture was a particularly hard-hit sector, not only because of the quarantine restrictions but also due to three devastating typhoons: the total agricultural damage incurred by the country in the last quarter of 2020 amounted to PHP 4.6 billion. This was the highest amount ever recorded for a single quarter. The new vision for the agricultural sector aimed to have a food-secure and the resilient Philippines with wealthy farmers and fisherfolk.

The “Plant, Plant, Plant Initiative” or “Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat (ALPAS) Laban sa Covid-19” program was developed by the Duterte administration. It was executed by the Department of Agriculture (DA) all over the country to benefit farmers, fishers, and consumers. This program was known as the “Plant, Plant, Plant Initiative.” In addition to being carried out in Luzon, which was the location where the enhanced community quarantine was being implemented, the program was also carried out in Visayas and Mindanao. One of the projects was referred to as the “Rice Resiliency Project,” which was allocated P8.5 billion for its overall budget. Rice self-sufficiency was projected to reach 93 percent as a result of this initiative, up from 87 percent previously. The other projects included the following: an additional budget for the National Food Authority’s purchase of palay; a project to revitalize urban agriculture and gulayan; a project to produce corn for food; and a project to facilitate strategic communications. The National Food Authority will use the additional budget to purchase palay.

The DA was responsible for providing crop insurance, means of subsistence, seeds, seedlings, and farm machinery totaling around PHP2.708 million. When the Taal Volcano erupted in January 2020, it had already destroyed 15,970 hectares of agricultural land by the time the COVID-19 epidemic arrived in the country in March 2020. Rice production increased by 0.6 percent to 7.54 million metric tons in the fourth quarter despite the pandemic, the string of powerful typhoons, and the low farm gate pricing. During the final three months of 2018, the agriculture sector’s gross value increased by 4.1 percent to reach PHP404.6 billion. Rice output would have been greater at 19.86 MMT if it weren’t for the loss of 419,560 MT of palay owing to the typhoons that ravaged the country.

On the other hand, corn production rose by 1.2 percent, reaching 1.68 million metric tons. Loans of approximately PHP444.3 million were distributed to 28,259 SFFs that had been impacted by the severe Asian food shortage, the eruption of the Taal Volcano, and typhoons. As of 2019, the NCIP has handed out 243 certificates of ancestral domain titles, covering a combined area of land equal to 5.7 million hectares. The IPs could cultivate cocoa, coffee, abaca, or black pepper; alternatively, they could engage in the business of breeding local pigs and free-range fowl. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rate for the Philippines was recorded at -11.5 percent in the third quarter of 2020, which was an improvement from the -16.9 percent rate recorded in the previous quarter.

Only agriculture, forestry, and fishing showed expansion, at a rate of 1.6 percent, among the major economic sectors. As a result, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte named the Department of Agriculture (DA) one of the highest-performing national government agencies in 2020. Agriculture Secretary William Dar informed the President of the fruitful results of the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) and the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF). The consistent pricing of rice and the record-breaking output of palay in 2020 were also noted. According to Secretary Dar, the agriculture industry reported a positive growth of 1.6 percent in the second quarter (Q2), 1.2 percent in the third quarter, and approximately 1 percent for the entirety of 2020. He urged his colleagues in the Cabinet to work closely with the Department of Agriculture (DA) in the robust implementation of the Plant, Plant, Plant Program that the Duterte administration is pushing forward.

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