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We have already shown how much we can accomplish when the private sector brings its resources to help solve national problems; we need only look back to how successfully the Philippines – even with its meager resources – was able to surpass the worst of the COVID pandemic.
COVID seemed insurmountable back then, as it seemed impossible for a country to come together for the common good when my father, Joecon, posted the challenge to every Filipino to take positive and constructive action to help the Philippines. He said, “Yes, the Filipino can.” With KALAP, I say, “Yes, the Filipino farmer can.”
It’s been barely two months since we formally signed KALAP at Malacañang Palace, and we have made significant progress. Tomorrow, we will present to the President our recommendations for moving forward with our aim of fostering a transformation of our agriculture sector, creating agripreneurs among our farmers and generating more jobs for our countrymen.
KALAP, or Kapatid Angat Lahat Agri Program, builds on the strength of public-private sector partnerships. It aims to transform major agricultural commodities and industries through the adoption of inclusive business models and the building of a conducive business environment for agriculture.
Our goal with KALAP is to help Philippine agriculture become productive, profitable, sustainable and competitive.
One of the models we have looked at is clustered farming. Our KALAP senior adviser Dr. William Dar has pointed out that the Philippines is way behind in clustered farming. The numbers aren’t very encouraging, either. Data from the PSA show that more than half of the farmlands in the country have sizes of one hectare or smaller and, given the unabated conversion of these farmlands into non-food producing land, we could see even more of them shrinking.
Israel, Japan, India, China, Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Finland, the Netherlands, Thailand, Chile and Colombia – all these countries have successfully implemented their own version of clustered farming. Our neighbors in Southeast Asia are way ahead of us in this regard, and I do not have to remind that RCEP will make competition a lot tougher in the years to come. We have no choice but to step up our game.
Fragmented lands are unfavorable to achieving scale in agriculture. It is the enemy of productivity. During our many discussions and consultations with government agencies and agri companies, the fragmentation was largely attributed to the implementation of the agrarian reform program. These now-small and inefficient farms are an unintended consequence of the attempt to break up and redistribute large farmlands. Without the resources to farm their lands – and the poverty that sees them living hand-to-mouth – farmers were forced to sell their lands, either to bigger farms or for conversion to non-food producing lands. It perpetuated the cycle of poverty; small farmers gave up their source of livelihood, even the land on which their homes stood.
Profitability is another goal for KALAP. This benefit must be realized by both the big brothers and the small farmers. I have emphasized time and again that farmers must be given their fair share of the profits. It is only right that they should profit from their labors.
For the LGUs, especially those in the provinces, nurturing a vibrant local economy can redound to not just food security, but also peace. As pointed out by the NIA’s Eddie Guillen – who used to be the mayor of Piddig – and attested to by Lionheart’s Christian Moeller, when a man has a plow, he will never pick up a gun.
I can say for certain that it will be profitable for the country itself because, if we succeed, we ensure food security for the nation and jobs even in the farthest province. When it becomes profitable, it will be a big step toward sustainability.
So where do we go from here?
Already, we were able to identify the priority commodities we will focus on with KALAP. We are also building the ranks of big brothers who have successfully implemented their own inclusive business models, so we can learn from them and implement these models in farms across the country.
We need to appreciate how important farm consolidation is going to be. Consider the challenges we are facing in harmonizing the various rights issues in potential farmlands we have all over the country, including ancestral lands and forest lands – not to mention the problem brought on by land retention limits. It is a complicated issue, but nothing that cannot be untangled.
We have already started the ball rolling on facilitating farmers’ access to credit. Money, capital or credit is an important element for any enterprise. Last March 31, we invited the banks and financial institutions to get their insights on lending to agriculture. As expected, the perception was that lending to farmers is risky business, and several disincentives often get in the way. And we are not even talking about the initial barriers faced by farmers when getting access to credit. Some agricultural areas have yet to have banks in their towns, and farmers are still intimidated and overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork needed in order to secure a loan.
Indeed, finding a solution to the country’s agricultural woes is a big task, but so was the pandemic. We did it once, we can do it again.