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Bayanihan is a concept that is close to my heart because it resembles the ideal of everyone banding together to help their neighbors move from where they are now to where they want to be.
As a firm believer in the power of our farmers and their ability to shape our nation’s future, I say that the way to help them is to meet them where they are. Recognizing that their longstanding struggle is multi-faceted allows us to prepare different approaches that place the welfare of our farmers first.
We must begin by appreciating how far our journey will be, and how urgent it is for us to take the first steps sooner rather than later. In the past few years, agriculture, forestry and fishing industry’s contribution to the country’s GDP ranges from 9 percent to 10 percent. This hardly makes us an agricultural powerhouse, and brings into question just how well we are putting to good use all the natural advantages we have as a country. But if we succeed in scaling up our agricultural industry, we stand to gain not just food security, but millions of jobs for Filipinos. And I must emphasize that these jobs will most likely be in the rural areas, where two of three Filipinos still live in poverty.
President Ferdinand E. Marcos saw land reform as the way for the country to achieve agrarian success, and also had with it the benefits of promoting social justice. Agrarian reform has achieved some of its goals, but as the numbers have shown, it did not take into account the fact that owning the land does not necessarily lead to agricultural productivity.
To push forward agrarian reform, land distribution and other initiatives need to go hand-in-hand with supporting and empowering our farmers so that we may help them improve not just their livelihoods but also the quality of their lives – an insight that came from no less than FEM’s son, our current President, Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
During our talk, we discussed the benefits of implementing “farm clustering” to improve productivity and farm security, which was one of the recommendations by KALAP and the think tank Foundation for Economic Freedom, represented by Dr. Fermin Adriano.
Farm clustering, Dr. Adriano clarified, does not mean consolidation of land ownership but merely the clustering of land for better production scheduling. He gave examples of how this approach led to higher farm productivity in China, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, among other countries that have implemented it.
Through this process, the government is effectively able to provide more assistance to clustered farmers because they will now deal with groups rather than millions of individuals. When more efficient systems are put in place, the empowerment of farmers through various initiatives will become easier. Knowledge-sharing and technology transfer, two important concepts in achieving economies of scale, will also be better enabled by this process.
This would also improve access to government services like the extension of credit for clustered farms because of the better approach that the government has towards our farmers. Granting them access for these services allows them to better invest in their operations and improve their productivity.
This is another important step in the right direction; to address systemic problems faced by the agricultural sector, the public and the private sectors have to work together and support key initiatives. In fact, in the previous sessions I have had with the private sector, they continue to show their interest and support.
But, for farm clustering to succeed, we need to make sure that our farmers are protected and empowered by the government. I agree with Dr. Adriano when he called for the immediate and proper implementation of the law condoning the debt of defaulting agrarian reform beneficiaries. The implementing rules and regulations of the law must ensure that the administrative burden of transferring land ownership to farmer beneficiaries is not burdensome. Furthermore, it must allow beneficiaries to enter into leasehold contract agreements with investors, with the assurance that land will not be converted to non-agricultural uses.
Promoting agricultural joint-venture agreements between small landowners and agribusiness corporations also further the agrarian reform initiative. Through this, they are able to pool their resources, share and absorb risks and benefit from technology and expertise significantly better.
Like Sec. Estrella, I laud KALAP’s big brother companies who not only share their knowledge and technology with DAR but who also showed their willingness to be an assured market for the farmers. They understand that empowering our farmers requires seeing and treating them as partners towards progress.
I hope this partnership across sectors continues and I am positive that it will. I am happy that we continue to receive support and cooperation from the private sector which, according to National Irrigation Administration chief and former Piddig Mayor Eddie Guillen, plays a huge role in the success of the agriculture sector. According to him, around 80 percent of the success of the agricultural sector depends on the private sector.
The latter presents little challenge as proven by the enthusiasm with which the country’s big agriculture companies have received KALAP. In true bayanihan spirit, the private sector is willing to share the load and do its part in making the country’s aspirations as an agricultural powerhouse a reality in the next few years.