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A recent World Bank report pushed for the transformation of the local agriculture industry, anchored on the shift away from specific crops and toward a more demand-driven sector, as necessary to fast track the economic recovery in the Philippines amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The WB said transforming agriculture into a dynamic, high-growth sector is essential for the country to speed up recovery, reduce poverty and grow inclusively, and the good news is it considers the Philippines well equipped to overcome the challenges brought about by the pandemic.

According to the report, transforming the country’s farming and food systems is even more important during the pandemic to ensure strong food value chains and affordable and nutritious food for Filipinos.

World Bank country director Ndiamé Diop noted that with the exception of a few small natural resource-rich countries, no country has successfully transitioned from middle to high income status without having achieved an effective transformation of its agrifood systems.

WB senior agriculture economist and lead author Eli Weiss said transforming the sector would mean growing higher than the rate of the country’s population. “It should not just be in farming but the entire value chain, including post harvest and agri processing. It should have a larger part in the GDP,” he noted.

The report suggested shifting away from a heavy focus on specific crops towards improving the overall resilience, competitiveness and sustainability of the rural sector. According to the WB, global experience shows that while ensuring the availability of key inputs remain important, reorienting significant public spending towards investments in public goods results in faster poverty reduction and greater productivity gains through an overall modernization of agriculture.

Interventions like farm consolidation, better extension services, e-commerce, and investments in agribusiness start-ups can also advance modernization of Philippine agriculture.

Despite being one of the few sectors that experienced growth during the pandemic, our agriculture sector continues to struggle for attention, especially when it comes to the national budget. The irony is the Philippines, while dreaming of industrialization, continues to be largely agricultural and now that an international institution like the WB is pushing for the sector’s transformation, our leaders seem to be neither prepared nor interested.

The agriculture sector and rural areas of the country can surely benefit from transformation. Hopefully we still have leaders who can influence that mindset and policy.*


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October 2020