The COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the role of agriculture in Philippine economy. When import and export grounded to a halt due to strict social distancing measures, it showed the need for the country to be self-sustainable. With this in mind, the government aimed to strengthen the agricultural sector.
The vision now is to be a food-secure and resilient country that aims to help farmers and fisherfolk prosper. Providing better support will improve the country’s food production and supply even during times of crisis.
Reviving the agriculture sector during the pandemic
There are three stages to guarantee the Philippines’ survival and recovery from COVID-19: survive, reboot, and grow.
The pandemic has shown the opportunity in which part of the sector needs more support and improvement. Determining these parts allowed the Department of Agriculture (DA) to be granted a Php31 billion supplemental budget to secure food production and supply during the health crisis.
The department is also seeking a Php66 billion stimulus package for 2021 to fund new programs for farmers and fishermen. This will be used to increase support for the sub-sectors that have been underfunded all these years.
Additionally, DA launched several initiatives that will help improve the development of agriculture in the Philippines and make farmers more competitive. One such program is under the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF). Through the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech), they will provide rice farmers with machinery and equipment.
It can help modernize rice farming and farm mechanization, reducing high production costs that rely on manual operations from land preparation to harvesting. With this, rice farmers can be more productive and earn more income.
But what does the role agriculture play in the Philippine economy?
Role of Agriculture in Economic Development
The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and the Department of Finance (DOF) identified that agriculture and food have a big impact in rebooting the Philippine economy.
As an agricultural country, the Philippines is in the best position to have an agriculture-driven economy. As stated by Agriculture Secretary Dar:
“We believe that economic growth in agriculture is more effective at reducing poverty and food insecurity than growth in other sectors.”
By investing in this sector, there are benefits of agriculture to the economy that can be taken advantage of:
1. Agribusiness Opportunities
Agriculture is more than just farming. It’s a food system that can provide plenty of business opportunities during the pandemic. Due to the community quarantine, farmers and fishermen experienced difficulties in selling their produce. This provided agripreneurs the chance to set up new platforms, such as online agriculture stores, connecting farmers directly to consumers,
Aside from that, the government also launched several agripreneurship loans so that Filipinos, especially displaced OFWs and workers, can start their own agribusiness.
2. Improving Rural Employment
Agriculture is not just a job for farmers. It covers a wider scope, including jobs such as machinery making, food processing, distribution, transportation, manufacturing, and more.
In fact, the Philippine Statistics Authority found that agricultural employment accounts for 24.3% of the total employment in the country in 2018. This means that 9,998,000 million Filipinos have jobs in agriculture. Through the government’s initiative to boost agripreneurship, the country can create more jobs, reducing unemployment in the country.
3. Rural Development
As of 2018, there’s an estimate of 24.5% of poverty incidence in rural areas. Since agriculture is the main economic activity in the countryside, investing in this sector can reduce poverty and boost local development.
Economic experts have found that agriculture is a more profitable venture now. Ateneo de Manila Economist Alvin Ang shared that localized farm ventures within the rural origins of Filipinos may reap dividends for them during this pandemic.
An example of these opportunities is Sustainable Sagada. It’s an online farmers market that was conceptualized during the start of the pandemic. It aims to help Sagada farmers sell their products, reaching consumers in Metro Manila when there were no other ways due to the quarantine.
And with every delivery run that they have, more and more local providers have been joining them, from meat producers, jam and winemakers, bakers, beekeepers, and even potters.
According to founder Tracey Santiago, the overwhelming support they received enabled them to help people who lost their jobs. They hired them to help pack the produce and deliver the packed goods to households.
The rise of new agricultural initiatives and projects further highlights the importance of agriculture in Philippine economy.
Empowering Agriculture through Financial Support
As mentioned before, agriculture is a food system. But in order to have a smoothly running system, you must have a strong foundation: our country’s farmers.
As Secretary Dar said: “For us to rise stronger from this Covid-19 crisis, the government must encourage the development of an agriculture-driven economy.”
And what better way to do that than providing accessible financial resources to Filipino farmers?
To solve this, the Department of Agriculture launched several financing initiatives to ensure that farmers are well-supported, and are implemented by government financial institutions (GFIs). Aside from GFIs, the DA also tapped rural banks so that farmers can have easier access to agricultural loans such as:
- SURE COVID-19 Loan Program
- Kapital Access for Young Agripreneurs (KAYA)
- Agri-Negosyo Program (ANYO)
- Agrarian Production Credit Program (APCP)
Rural Banking for Filipino Farmers
Rural banks cater to the needs of farmers, fishermen, and even micro and small enterprises (MSEs). As of July 2020, there was an increase in agricultural-related loans used for raising, poultry, and other aspects of food production.
RBAP President Elizabeth Timbol had even urged that the government should prioritize the rural banks by making them conduits for all the relief measures to affected sectors in the society. This is because they are well-positioned to address their financial needs – and why it’s important to digitize rural banks.
Digitization can make financial services universally accessible for all, particularly to marginalized farmers. This can help solve the long-time problem of our farmers not having access to credit and financing. With digitalization, we can ensure that they can have access to adequate capital to sustain and ensure the growth of their livelihood.
By empowering rural banks, we are also empowering the role of agriculture in Philippine economy.