LA TRINIDAD, Benguet — President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., who previously made known his desire to revisit Philippine agricultural approach during his campaign sorties, now sees his vision coming full circle after his majority win, a step that bodes very well for Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) agriculture sector, the number one producer of highland vegetables in the Philippines.
On average, CAR supplies 80 per cent of the country’s highland vegetable requirements, earning it the fame “Salad bowl of the Philippines,” says Department of Agriculture- Cordillera Administrative Region (DA-CAR).
President Marcos making agriculture among his administration’s fiscal priorities positively impacts CAR agricultural activities.
CAR’s one major underpinning, economy, agriculture generates around 30 million pesos from the average 1 million kilograms or 1,000 metric tons of vegetables delivered daily outside of CAR, DA-CAR explained.
Nation-wide-CAR tops in production of succulent greens like broccoli, Baguio beans, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, cauliflower, spring onions, green pepper, chayote tops, chayote, wombok, spinach, tomatoes, pechay, and potatoes, among others.
CAR also leads nation-wide in the scientific studies in production of potatoes, with Benguet State University (BSU) leading the forefront in discovering at laboratory level, strains of potato tubers that are suitable and adaptable to highland environment planting conditions.
Other learning institutions nationwide, private or government have yet to match capability of BSU in the frontiers of potato studies, experimentation and practical application, helping CAR become a major source in production of potatoes.
DA-CAR director Dr. Cameron P. Odsey, who emphasized that agriculture, “ is a big production trade in CAR,” by the mere fact that it gives employment to thousands of persons and puts to very good utilization lands which otherwise could just be left idling around.
President Marcos, who explained that the agriculture sector has become merely a “second cousin” in government’s agenda of priorities made clear a “change of approach” by government in its attitude towards agriculture.
At present, DA-CAR authorities estimates there are around 98,000 individuals involved in annual agricultural activities in over 36,600 hectares in CAR.
That is a big deal in terms of employment generation, income and relegating CAR to a status as reliable and consistent supplier of fresh and succulent vegetables for domestic demand in the Philippines, explained DA-CAR authorities.
DA-CAR explicitly noted farming sector contributes a hefty amount to CAR’s regional economy, contribution pegged by the National Economic and Development Authority – Cordillera Administrative Region (NEDA-CAR) as 7.3 per cent or roughly 12 billion pesos annually, as of 2019.
A shot in the vein of RP’s agriculture, boosts its arterial line lands extending from Northern Luzon and way down south to Mindanao, defining the level of seriousness President Marcos puts premium of ensuring food security for the Philippine populace, as DA-CAR authorities see it.
Director Odsey emphasized CAR’s agricultural sector “is a critical component of the economy, with the need to continue and sustain efforts to ensure food availability and security” that “needs partnership of stakeholders, farmers, LGU’s and other offices involved at various levels.”
Odsey explicitly stated: “We have two responsibilities. Produce enough food for our own requirements and that of the country and continue to maintain our watersheds as these are our assets for the generations to come. The nature of us, indigenous peoples helps us in this pandemic as well as to face other problems and difficulties.”
Odsey, on the other hand, lauded the Filipino farmers, in general, for their relentless effort to produce food despite persisting problems. “Our farmers have been continuing to produce food otherwise there would be a greater problem,” Odsey said.
Concern of President Marcos on the state of Philippine agriculture is reflected by concern of agricultural secretary William Dar and other regional agricultural directors, all, who lamented the declining output of the farming sector.
Secretary Dar said that incoming President-elect Marcos stands to “inherit an underbudgeted and neglected for 30 years agriculture that is gasping for breath,” including the three years that has been under the helm of Dar.
Dar explained that “Vision for food sovereignty cannot be sustained without a mature, industrialized economy and harmonized systems,” and further added, “Investing in our farmers and fisher folks is investing in a future is investing in a future of economic growth and prosperity for all Filipinos.”
President Marcos dwelt on local farmer’s protection if the country is to wean itself away from the shackles of importation; the fund used which would have been otherwise used in purchasing products of farmers.
Marcos made clear he isn’t comfortable with importation, a line of thinking utilized by DA that raised observers’ eyebrows attuned on agricultural development. Marcos, on the matter of importation previously lamented “that is a cycle that keeps sucking us down into this importation hole until before we know it, we are not producing anymore.”
Marcos wants the agri-sector modernized by switching to higher mechanization, full use of Research and Development (R&D) and beefing pre and post-harvest activities to achieve high quality production.
Such stance had previously been echoed by NEDA-CAR in 2019 when it stated in its report “the need to add to the value of crops produced (in the region) by post processing which will increase the contribution of the agricultural sector to overall regional output.
Another dilemma Marcos wants to addressed is the critical shortage of farmers for the coming years due to the aging phenomenon of farmers. Such is particularly true among smallholder farmers in many parts of the Philippines.
“The average age of farmers in the country is now 57 years old and up and we need to attract the young to think about agri-business and for them to adapt to new technology,” President Marcos emphatically noted.
Marcos rued that many of the young folks deem farming as a poorly-paid sector and under-appreciated that even their parents dissuade them in engaging in serious planting.
Considering the influence of parents on their children in the context of Filipino culture, the young would more likely have either a negative of positive attitude towards farming.
However, agricultural experts are hopeful that, with the renewed vigor by the Marcos administration on agriculture, they can help formulate “on-the-ground” strategies that will raise the motivation of farmers and their offspring to pursue agriculture.
Some of these the agricultural experts mentioned include, but not limited to:
– Strengthening and aggressively implementing nationwide, agricultural clubs like 4H clubs and other programs among rural youth with focus and agricultural entrepreneurship to be headed by DA’s Agricultural Institute (ATI);
-providing scholarship to youth bent on pursuing agri-related courses. This must not be limited to students graduating with honors but must include those who completed secondary education;
-Expanding and re-assessing technical-vocational-livelihood track strand, as to whether a.) agri courses be required or enhanced in elementary or hi- school curricula, or, b.) Additional path be found for agriculture as science strand, like what the University of the Philippines (UP) Rural High School, Los Banos is presently implementing.
CAR farmers are also very hopeful that with the new administration’s scaled up attention on agriculture, the problem of vegetable smuggling will be nipped in the bud.
In the case of CAR, proliferation of vegetables smuggled into the Philippines, directly competes with local produce by distorting prices of locally-produced commodities, causing ruin to both farmers and the provinces and causing havoc to uplift CAR’s vegetable industry.
Smuggling reduces revenues that the government can generate, reduces competitive advantage of local farmers and may endanger consumer safety, according to LGU authorities in CAR.