“The new thinking” for agriculture. That is how Dr. William D. Dar, the new secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA), calls the eight paradigms which he believes would level up the country’s agriculture sector.

The mission he is bringing is: “to collectively empower farmers and fisherfolk and the private sector to increase agricultural productivity and profitability, taking into account sustainability and resilience.”

“The new thinking should have for its vision: A food-secure Philippines with prosperous farmers and fisherfolk,” said Dr. Dar, who prefers to be called “Manong Willie” by farmers and those who know him well.

“The mission and vision should guide the actors and stakeholders in the agriculture sector to ensure the achievement of the objective of making farmers and fisherfolk prosperous, with the eight paradigms putting in place the required policies, programs, projects and funding,” he explained.

Dr. Dar knows what he is talking about.  With a doctoral degree from the University of the Philippines at Los Baños, he became the first director of the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) in 1988.  Later on, he was appointed as the executive director of the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD).

During the time of the presidency of Joseph Estrada, he served as agriculture secretary and as presidential adviser on rural development.  However, it was a short stint since he accepted to become the director-general of International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

That was in 1999.  Fourteen years later, on June 24, 2013, the was conferred with MS Swaminathan Award for leadership in agriculture.  In between those events, he has authored “Feeding the forgotten poor.”

According to Dr. Dar, Philippine agriculture is in a “critical stage,” as it has grown “erratically” in the past five years. 

“Prosperity is non-existent in almost all agriculture households in the Philippines,” Dr. Dar said in a position paper that was circulated during the press conference held in Davao City recently.  

He cited the Family Income and Expenditure Survey released by the Philippine Statistics Authority which showed a typical Filipino farmer earning only an average income of only P100,000 per year.  “This is a little below the poverty line of P108,000 of 2105,” Dr. Dar pointed out.

Dr. Dar’s battle cry as the agriculture head is: “Masagang Ani at Malaking Kita.”  This simply means that farmers could have a bumper harvest from his farm so that his income will increase.

“Increasing the low incomes of small Filipino farmers and fisherfolk could be the key to leveling up the country’s agriculture sector, starting in the remaining three years of the Duterte administration,” he said.

Dr. Dar cited nine reasons why the income of farmers and fisherfolk are low: low farm productivity, lack of labor, unaffordable and inaccessible credit, limited use of technology, limited farmland diversification, underdeveloped agri-manufacturing and export, severe deforestation/land degradation, aging farmers and fisherfolk, and climate change.

He believed, however, income of farmers and fisherfolk can be doubled in five years.  It is doable, he said, adding that “their sources of income should include off-farm and non-farm activities like agri-tourism.”

Doubling the income could also be done “with the use of relevant and innovative technologies, provision of affordable credit, wide adoption of economies of scale through collective action, value-adding, developing markets at the local, national and global level, sustained empowerment and skills development of farmers and fisherfolk, and provision of sustained government budget support augmented by private sector investments.”

To make these strategies effective and sustainable, other imperatives must also be undertaken like mechanization, development of rural infrastructure (including market infrastructure), research and development, development-oriented regulatory support, and climate-smart agriculture.

The eight paradigms Dr. Dar is trying to adopt are the following: modernization must continue; industrialization of agriculture is the key; promotion of exports is a necessity; consolidation of small- and medium-sized farms; infrastructure development would be critical; higher and investment for agriculture; legislative support is needed; and roadmap development is paramount.

Modernization of agriculture is crucial

To most smallholder farmers, “modernization” is a bit intimidating as most of them believe the term means getting rid of the carabao in favor of farm machines.  “But in a modernized farming environment,” Dr. Dar explained, “the carabao is no longer used as a beast of burden but a source of income by way of dairy production.”

Modernization also means application of modern technology like proper crop fertilization and adding value to the crops like coffee and cacao.  “Relative to that, there is a need to diversify crop production in the Philippine agricultural landscape,” he said, adding that 80% of the country’s farms are devoted solely to rice, corn, and coconut.

By modernizing agriculture, Dr. Dar believed the young people may finally be attracted to go into farming.  “Since the youth are tech-savvy and receptive to technology, their entry into the agriculture sector, especially as agripreneurs and infomediaries, would greatly help modernize Philippine agriculture,” he said.

Agriculture industrialization is a must

“Agriculture must be treated as an industry, with the objective of industrializing the value chain of every agricultural commodity,” Dr. Dar said.  “While productivity increase is a major objective, it is equally important to produce more income by value adding, processing, manufacturing, and developing markets for both raw and processed agricultural products.”

He also suggested the formation of community agriculture management companies or corporations (CAMCs) to ignite industrialization and modernization in the rural farm economy.

“Operating at the barangay or municipal level, the CAMC’s mandate is to institute a profit-based model in transforming communities by taking part in rural production systems, establishing contractual partnerships that are more socially equitable compared to their traditional economic relations, and introducing newer technologies to the farmer-partners by way of required meetings and learning sessions,” he explained.

Promotion of exports is a necessity

Dr. Dar said exports of agricultural products should not be dependent on surplus production to supply the international market.  “What should be done is to achieve economies of scale in on-farm production that would give us sustained quantity and quality of export products,” he said.

This is where the vital part of private sector comes in.  “(Their) role will be essential in developing and promoting agricultural products, including establishing and seeking the markets abroad,” he said.

Consolidation of small- and medium-sized farms is integral

Today is the right time for the government to “promote and support land consolidation arrangements to bring about economies of scale, particularly for crops that require mechanization and massive use of technology.”

As Dr. Dar puts it: “Consolidating small- and medium-sized farms is also a crucial step to achieve collective action, since it would be easier for government and private entities to deal or transact with organized farmers. This will also help link more farmers to the agro-industrial sector.”

Infrastructure development will be critical

“Build, build, build” is the mantra of President Rodrigo Duterte.  This must also be for agriculture.  “There is a need to engage the private sector in a ‘build and transfer’ scheme to accelerate the development of national irrigation systems,” he said.  “Irrigation development, however, also cover high-value commercial crops and not just rice.”

Dr. Dar also recommended that massive investments must be provided for rainwater harvesting not just for economic purposes but also for flood mitigation.  In addition, he batted for the construction of more solar-powered irrigation systems all over the country.

He likewise backed for the construction of food terminal markets in strategic places including facilities for post-harvest handling, packaging and related facilities, and farm-to-market roads to enhance agri-industrialization in rural areas.

Budget and investment for agriculture must match needs

“With a forward-looking Philippine agriculture that has a roadmap, the government with the strong and popular support from the citizenry, must provide the necessary budget and investment to grow and develop Philippine agriculture,” Dr. Dar contend.  “The increased budget will help unlock the bigger potential contributions of agriculture and agribusiness to the economy, including more employment opportunities.

“New ideas, new programs and projects are needed to innovate Philippine agriculture,” he added.

Pro-poor legislative support is urgently needed

“The country’s agriculture sector needs the help of both the Senate and the House of Representatives,” Dr. Dar said, referring to the policy and structural reforms that need to be legislated and institutionalized.

The president himself “can also certify urgent legislative measures for agricultural and rural development.”

Development of new roadmap is paramount

The new roadmap, as envisioned by Dr. Dar, should have the following goals: increased productivity, profitability, competitiveness, sustainability and resilience.  Those who should also be involved in the formulation of the roadmap are the smallholder farmers and fisherfolk, local government units, SCUs (schools, college and universities), civil society groups, and the private sector.

The agriculture department, however, takes the lead in generating the “big ideas” for the roadmap, with inputs from the private sector as it has more access to the export markets and funding for research and development.

“(The roadmap) must also cover a period of at least five years and the ultimate aim is to double the income of smallholder farmers and fisherfolk,” he said.

Currently, the agriculture sector accounts for about 9% of the country’s gross domestic product, while 25% is accounted for by agro-processing and related activities, according to Dr. Dar.  Of the 42.8-million workforce, about 25% (10.3 million) are engaged in agriculture sector.

“Since the 1960s and 1970s,” Dr. Dar recalled, “the government has introduced many affirmative action programs that sought to help the farm sector, including three waves of agrarian reform to give land to the landless, farm credit programs and support initiatives under various presidents, farm extension, tens of thousands of kilometers of farm to market roads, some level of farm mechanization in select areas, and price support programs as well as quantitative restrictions.”

But still, agricultural development continues to lag instead of moving up to the next level.  “(Past programs and initiatives didn’t really take off as) they were designed to solve the problems of an ideal set of beneficiaries – land-owning, educated, with a modicum of political connections – far from the real circumstances of the average Filipino smallhold farmer who is unable to access low cost finance for inputs, has limited links to the value chain and retail markets, and no access to better inputs and modern technologies,” Dr. Dar pointed out.

This is the reason why he is promoting the eight paradigms to level up Philippine agriculture. – ###