The second strategic direction for improving agricultural productivity in the Philippines is diversification. With a few dissenting voices still focused on 100% self-sufficiency in rice, Filipino economists generally agree that we have been too rice-centric in our approach to agriculture. For decades, more than 60% of the agriculture budget was spent on the rice sector. This is understandable from a psychological point of view since rice is the main staple, especially of low-income households that make up the vast majority of the population. I still remember the national trauma when there was a severe shortage of rice in the 1970s. On the humorous side, you had popular figures like Asian queen of song Pilita Corrales and renowned Filipino boxer World Flash Elorde appearing on television advocating the consumption of corn as a substitute for rice because they, the Cebuanos, derive their talent and strength from corn. ! We should, however, counteract the emotions with reason and follow what the leaders of our neighboring country, Malaysia, have been doing. In the 1980s, advised by a team of agribusiness experts from the World Bank (which included Dr Rolando Dy who later headed the UA&P Food and Agribusiness Center), the Malaysian policymakers have defined rice sufficiency as partial sufficiency, always leaving room for rice imports from their neighboring countries, Thailand and Vietnam, which have almost unlimited access to water (the most critical ingredient in rice production) because of the Mekong River, which looks like an ocean. Scientific reason told them that they could never match the profitability of rice farmers in these two neighboring countries. They then devoted most of their land to palm oil (in which they became a world power) and rubber. They made so much money exporting palm oil and rubber that they had more than enough to import the rice they were unable to produce.
We have done well to turn large tracts of land in Mindanao into banana and pineapple plantations where we have a geographical advantage. Instead of obsessing over 100% rice sufficiency, we should have added a lot more tropical fruits to these two items in which, with the help of multinationals, we have become a world leader. We could have diversified into coffee, cocoa, avocado, durian. mangoes and other high-value tropical fruits and vegetables that contribute to the $30-40 billion in agricultural exports from our ASEAN neighbors (compared to our paltry $7 billion in agricultural exports) . The exemplary ASEAN country for product diversification in agribusiness is Thailand. Beyond bananas and pineapples, this ASEAN country exports large amounts of rubber, grains, sugar, tapioca, frozen shrimp, canned tuna, and a variety of fruits and nuts. In the 1970s and 1980s, many Thai agricultural students studied at UP Los Banos. They learned how to grow and cultivate a good number of tropical fruits and flowers from the eminent horticultural guru, Dr. Ramon Valmayor. Upon their return to Thailand, they got full support from their government to implement what they had learned in the Philippines. The rest is history: Thailand became one of the main exporters of fruits and flowers, the culture of which they learned during their studies in the Philippines. A similar story is told about those Thai students who learned advanced rice cultivation technology at the famous International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Banos, who then returned to their country and helped to cause Thailand to produce a surplus of the product. export to the Philippines. The missing factor in our country was strong government support.
In fact, the need for the Philippines to diversify into other high-value food products should be driven, not only by the opportunity to earn more foreign currency, but even more importantly to meet the demand of a population of 112 millions (and counting) for fruits and vegetables as our economy transitions from a lower-middle-income economy to an upper-middle-income economy over the next two years and finally to a high-income economy (with an income per capita of $13,000) over the next twenty years. It is a well-known phenomenon that as the incomes of individuals and households increase, they spend less and less percentage of the food budget on carbohydrates like rice and corn and more and more on fruits, vegetables and meat products. The diversification of agricultural products is essential for a growing internal market.
If we address the problem of consolidating the millions of small coconut farms into larger units, we can also simultaneously address product diversification because coconut farms are very suitable for intercropping with certain fruit trees ( cocoa and coffee) as well as high-value vegetables and livestock. . When it comes to produce like lettuce, cabbage, ginger, onions and even papayas, the vast tracts of coconut land in Quezon province would be ideal for intercropping due to the proximity of the province with the huge markets of the National Capital Region and CALABARZON. In fact, we should channel the increased interest of the so-called “plantitos” and “plantitas” in high-value gardening towards the cultivation of these vegetable and fruit products in all the empty spaces that exist in provinces like Batangas, Cavite , Laguna and Quezon. Short courses in gardening can be given to these non-farmers by companies like East West Seeds and Harbest who actually run training programs for those who want to plant the seeds they market to urban gardeners. In Taiwan and China, urban gardening provides a substantial supply of high-value products to city dwellers. In fact, some of them even go so far as to produce these foods in vertical gardens of condominium units, using hydroponics technology.
In fact, the reference to hydroponics should remind us that much remains to be done to “industrialize” the agricultural sector. We keep talking about the advent of Industrial Revolution 4.0, but our economy has barely passed through Industrial Revolution 1.0 and Industrial Revolution 2.0 which, respectively, involved the introduction of machinery and electricity into the production process. The industrialization of agriculture means the increased mechanization of agriculture and the increased processing of agricultural raw materials. During the UPVanguard webinar, Dr. Briones pointed out that there is already evidence of the dwindling supply of Filipino labor willing to work on farms. This is particularly the case in the sugar industry where the so-called “sacadas” have practically disappeared. There is a great need to mechanize the cultivation of sugar. What happened in modern banana and pineapple plantations in Mindanao must increasingly apply to other crops. And what happened to the nascent chocolate candy industry in Cebu and Davao must also happen to other raw materials from our agricultural and fishing industry. And as in the coconut industry, processing should lead to manufactured products that give increasingly higher incomes to farmers, such as the upgrading of copra and coconut oil into coconut sugar, water , milk and VCO. In the increased processing of agricultural raw materials, there is much that can be contributed by micro and small enterprises that are created especially by women in their homes and in small factories. Pastillas, polvoron and piyaya products from different regions, not to mention the many snacks produced by micro-entrepreneurs should receive all the support, as the Ministry of Trade and Industry and NGOs like Joey Concepcion’s GoNegosyo are already doing. and Company . This process of industrialization of agriculture can greatly contribute to solving the problem of poverty, both in rural and urban areas. To be continued.
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