World Bank agriculture expert recommends PHL drop focus on individual crops

rice farmer

A WORLD BANK economist said the Philippines needs to move away from a policy of prioritizing specific crops while focusing on improving the resilience and sustainability of the agriculture sector.

In a virtual briefing, Eli Weiss, the World Bank senior agriculture economist, said in a report that the Department of Agriculture (DA) should also reconfigure its policy to be demand-driven rather than supply oriented.

Mr. Weiss said according to the report’s findings, the DA’s budget for 2020 remained focused on rice, which received 48% of production support services, 53% of extension support, education, and training services, and 88% of irrigation services, among others.

“Focus, which is primarily on rice, should be on more diverse content such as marketing management, natural resources, and research and development (R&D),” Mr. Weiss said.

“Going forward, rice will remain a vital food staple for the country, but the bulk of the income-earning and job creation opportunities for the sector will be generated in other non-rice subsectors,” he added.

The report said the transformation of the Philippine agriculture sector will play an important role in ensuring the food supply chain is stable and food affordable during and after the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Ndiame Diop, World Bank country director for Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand, and Philippines, said that no country has completed a successful transition from middle to high income status without modernizing food production.

“Modernizing the country’s agricultural sector is a very important agenda for the Philippines,” Mr. Diop said.

Meanwhile, the report found that the government’s past spending has been weighted towards price supports for specific crops and on subsidies for farm inputs such as fertilizer, planting materials, and machinery.

It said shifting public spending to infrastructure, biosecurity systems, and innovation systems result in more effective poverty reduction and better productivity, which will help modernize Philippine agriculture.

“Small farmers have difficulty accessing inputs and markets for their produce, while buyers such as agribusiness enterprises and wholesalers find it difficult to get the quantity and quality of produce that they need for processing on a timely basis,” according to the report.

“The transformation of Philippine agriculture into a dynamic, high-growth sector is essential for the country. It is the surest way if we are to speed up our economic recovery from the pandemic and achieve meaningful poverty-reduction and inclusive growth,” Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said.

The World Bank’s Philippines programs include the Philippine Rural Development Project which focuses on improving farm and fishery productivity and boosting rural incomes. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave

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