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From near stagnation to our best hope for economic growth

AMONG the prospective cabinet members of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, former Gov. Manny Piñol of North Cotabato appears to have already started moving so that when the new administration takes over on June 30, the Department of Agriculture will not be wasting any time in getting its programs underway.

Agriculture fell behind in national development in the last administration. When the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) proudly announced that the national economy as measured by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) expanded by 6.9 percent in the first quarter of this year, the growth was mainly pushed by the industry sector – manufacturing, construction, and utilities – which grew 8.7 percent. The services sector – tourism, business process outsourcing, banking, etc. – accelerated to 7.9 percent.

In the midst of this strong overall growth, the NEDA said, the agricultural sector remained weak. It contracted by 4.4 percent from near stagnation in the previous year. The rice industry, in particular, suffered not only from underproduction, necessitating huge importations from Vietnam and Thailand; it was also held back by widespread rice smuggling.

In an effort to stop the smuggling, Congress approved RA 10845 declaring large-scale agricultural smuggling as economic sabotage, with increased penalties. It also approved RA 10848 extending the life of the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund to enable the government to establish needed production and processing facilities.

These two new laws, Sen. Cynthia Villar said, should help the incoming Duterte administration in its plans for agriculture.

These two final acts approved by the outgoing 16th Congress will certainly help the Duterte administration which has already given a great deal of attention to agriculture. Incoming Agriculture Secretary Piñol said a Food Security Blueprint has been drawn up, with sections on irrigation, credit, logistics, fisheries, food terminals, etc. He has been meeting for weeks now with leaders of various sectors, as well as with small farmers and fishermen themselves.

All these developments should bring about a rejuvenation of Philippine agriculture, our best hope for food security for all our people, for better living conditions through wider employment in the rural areas, and a greater surge in overall national economic development as measured by the GDP.