The Philippines lags behind–in a number of ways–compared to other member countries of ASEAN when it comes to agriculture. The facts and figures that tell us the reason for this were presented by Dr. William Dar during a round table discussion on the future of Philippine agriculture beyond the next six years. The event was convened last July 28 at the University
of the Philippines, Diliman by the StratSearch Foundation, headed by Dr. Clarita Carlos.

Dr. Dar was the agriculture secretary during the first year of the Estrada administration. He then became the most successful head of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), which is based in India; he served for a record three terms.

The Philippines has been underperforming in agri productivity. From 1961 to 2012, the annual growth rate in agri productivity in the Philippines was 2.87 percent. This is lower than the 3.73 percent of Indonesia, 4.10 percent of Malaysia, 3.21 percent of Thailand, 3.67 percent of Myanmar, 4.16 percent of Vietnam, and 4.32 percent of China.

Regarding agri-food exports, the Philippines has a miserable record compared to five other Asean countries. In 2014, the Philippines had agri-food exports totaling US$ 6.7 billion (B) compared to US$38.8B for Indonesia, US$26.2B for Malaysia, US$38.4B for Thailand, and US$24.8B for Vietnam.

The scorecard of the Philippines in agri exports is dismal compared to Indonesia, Malaysia,
Thailand, and Vietnam. In 2014, the Philippines had only two agri export products that brought in more than US$ 1B. These are coconut oil (US$1.3B) and banana (US$1.1B). It had no agri product that brought in more than US$500 million but less than US$1B.

In contrast, Indonesia had five agri export products that brought in more than US$1 billion, namely palm oil, US$17.5B; natural rubber, US$4.7B; coconut and palm kernel oil, US$2.5B; shrimp, US$1.8B; and coffee, US$1.08B. Indonesia also had four products that brought in more than US$500 million but less than US$ 1B each, including cigars and cigarettes, margarine, processed shrimp, cocoa butter, and oil cake.

The Philippines is also way behind Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia in rubber production

Malaysia had 4 commodities that brought in more than US$1B each, namely palm oil (US$12.0B); vegetable oil, hydrogenated (US$1.9B); natural rubber, (US$1.4B), and palm kernel and coconut oil (US$1.0B). Malaysia also had four commodities that brought in more than US$500 million but less than US$1B.

The figures from Thailand and Vietnam are also very enviable. Thailand has nine commodities that brought in more than US$1B each, namely natural rubber, rice, prepared fish, sugar, prepared chicken, starch, prepared shrimp, animal feed, and food preparations.

On the other hand, Vietnam had 8 commodities that brought in more than US$ 1B each, namely coffee beans, rice, shrimp, fish fillets, cashew nuts, natural rubber, prepared shrimp, and black pepper.

What Can Be Done?

The way to go is to diversify the crops that Filipino farmers plant. The government could promote high value crops like coffee, cacao, rubber, oil palm, fruits, livestock and poultry, and aquaculture. Most of these high-value commodities were neglected in the past in terms of research and financing.

The way to go is to make agriculture an honest-to-goodness industry, which means promoting and undertaking farming as an honest-to-goodness agribusiness. Making agriculture profitable would be the best enticement for educated young people to go into it.

Farm Mechanization

This is one other strategy to make farming in the Philippines profitable. Mechanization can make land preparation, planting, and harvesting more efficient and economical, while at the same time producing higher quality products.

A rice harvester can help cut down rice production costs.

At the roundtable discussion, Engr. Rex Bingabing, outgoing head of PhilMech, for instance, showed examples of how farm mechanization can benefit Philippine agriculture. For instance, the average cost of producing palay in the Philippines is P11 per kilo. With the employment of mechanical transplanting and harvesting, the cost of production could be reduced to just over P7 per kilo.

Mechanization, of course, can be adopted for other crops as well as for aquaculture, livestock, and poultry.

Agritourism

A law on farm tourism was passed during the last Congress. If implemented correctly, this could encourage young, educated entrepreneurs to go into developing agritourism destinations. And this could help boost the country’s performance in agriculture.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s October 2016 issue.