How will BBM dispel public skepticism about its promise of an agricultural renaissance?

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President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was slow to identify his nominee for agriculture secretary. Where he and his transition team have raced with the clock to find names for other Cabinet posts and executive offices, he is visibly unsure of his choices and policy direction in the area of ​​agriculture and its various subsectors.

This is striking because during the election campaign and in post-election talks, he often spoke of the very high priority he gives to agriculture and the objective of making agriculture once again a flagship sector of the economy. Philippine economy.

Of course, there can be no specific plans, policies and programs until he is sworn in on June 30. He will then be able to appoint his Secretary of Agriculture and the heads of the sub-cabinet of this very important department.

We can gauge the level of public interest in the new administration’s agricultural push from the responses prompted by a report published by The Manila Times on June 5, titled “BBM to Boost Agriculture for Food Security.”

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Resilient food security and public health

The article reported how Marcos gave assurances that agriculture would be a top priority in his administration “as he envisions a food secure and resilient Philippines in the years to come.”

He said stabilizing food prices, especially by helping farmers and fishermen, would be crucial for the growth of the economy.

“Producing enough food and lowering its price is one of our aspirations that we want to achieve in the years to come,” the report said, citing a statement Marcos posted on his Facebook page.

He described the long-term solution to the problems of focusing on “the agricultural value chain”, from production to processing, from mechanization to credit, to retail.

Marcos said he had met with rice traders to find out his “aspiration” to reduce the price to 20 pesos per kilogram.

He also said that the aging population of farmers must be addressed. “Our farmers are 56, 57 years old. It’s not a good number. It’s too high a number. How can we change that? We have to use new technologies. It has to be industrial agriculture. “

His incoming press secretary, Trixie Cruz-Angeles, said the president-elect was taking his time choosing the next person to head the agriculture department.

“Agriculture is one of the priority programs of the president-elect and therefore the selection must be done carefully,” she said.

There was apparently a lot of interest in the position and the flood of applications slowed down the selection process.

Outgoing Agriculture Secretary William Dar has expressed interest in running the department again.

But Dar has been the target of much criticism due to some policies adopted by the Duterte administration which are seen as harmful to agriculture and farmers in the country.

Walk the big talk

Times columnist Marlen Ronquillo, who is a farmer, expressed the skepticism and hope of many in our farming community in a column: “Can the new administration deliver the big talk? (MT, June 5, 2022). He castigated the prevailing policies of the Duterte administration, which he accuses of anti-farmer bias.

His column cries out for an answer:

“The Duterte government has gone beyond neglecting agriculture. Political will and political capital have gone into dismantling all institutions and programs that support agriculture. Rice, our staple food, became the first major casualty of the brutal anti-farm policies.Congress, slavish to the whims of Mr. Duterte, removed the sacrosanct and inviolable quantitative restrictions (QRs) on rice and replaced it with the latest term of rice cultivation in the Philippines – the Rice Pricing Act (RTL).”

Will the new Marcos administration keep its campaign promise to resurrect the agricultural sector? Ronquillo is unimpressed with the complexion of Marcos’ economic team and doubts he can “keep up with the big talk”.

Given this compelling dissent, it would be foolish for Marcos to keep Dar in the department.

Marcos had better study a book on the Philippine economy, co-edited by its economic planning secretary, Arsenio Balisacan: The Philippine Economy: Development, Policies and Challenges (Ateneo de Manila University Press, Quezon City, 2003).

Mr. Balisacan, a professor of economics at the University of the Philippines, is renowned for his research and writing on poverty and inequality in the country.

It will be full of ideas and practical suggestions to contribute to a serious and committed program of agricultural modernization and poverty reduction.

For my part, I would like to recommend to the president-elect a brilliant and captivating non-fiction book: Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle by Dan Senor and Saul Singer (Hachem Book Group, New York, 2009).

We Filipinos have been obsessed with studying and replicating the East Asian economic miracle, which thrust Asian tigers into the limelight.

We have neglected to study the fact that there have also been equally convincing economic miracles in other countries. Israel’s miracle is perhaps the most impressive of all.

Start-up Nation chronicles how Israel became the high-tech hit among nations, propelling it to a major role among industrialized nations.

Israel’s high-tech success

The authors write: “High technology in Israel began with agriculture. Although many still view agriculture as the epitome of low tech, they are wrong; technology was 95% the secret to Israel’s prodigious agricultural productivity.

In 25 years, Israel has multiplied by 17 its agricultural output. People don’t realize it, but farming is 95% science and 5% labor.

In the early 1960s, Israel established a nuclear reactor, which operated smoothly and would have made Israel a nuclear power from 2005. Israel was the world’s tenth largest producer of nuclear patents.

Today, Israel leads the world in the percentage of GDP spent on research and development, creating both a technological advantage critical to national security and the civilian technology that drives the economy.

The authors attribute Israel’s success primarily to innovation and entrepreneurship.

Although innovation is rare, it is also a renewable resource. Unlike limited resources, ideas can spread and benefit the countries best placed to take advantage of them.

This is, I would venture to suggest, the path to the new solutions that our new President-elect Marcos is seeking for the renaissance of our agriculture.

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