2020 Year-End Message and Overall Outlook for the Agriculture Sector in the Philippines and Southeast Asia for Smarter 2021

  • 4 January 2021

The year 2020 is surely an unexpectedly challenging year. Agricultural production has been disrupted by a number of catastrophes that slowed down the pace by which the sector plays as an engine for economic development in the Southeast Asian region. While the COVID-19 pandemic crippled most of the key economic sectors in the Philippines, the agriculture sector was able to maintain a positive growth in year 2020. It must be acknowledged that there were earlier production growth targets that may not have been achieved. But being able to maintain positive growth is an enduring story of resilience at a time when it is needed the most.

It is in this light that the overall outlook for the agriculture sector of the Philippines for 2021 is generally positive. We are banking on a more aggressive integrated intervention from the government sector bolstered by heightened private sector engagement. The year 2021 must be a year where previous justifications are to be rendered as no longer acceptable. Instead, the touted "new normal" clearly means concrete actions that are wiser, effective, efficient, and sustainable. While being locked down and boxed in, these actions and solutions have been brewing to enable us to step up and step out as they are implemented this 2021. Overall, SEARCA remains hopeful that 2021 is a year when the agriculture sector will significantly grow, and truly become an instrument for socio-economic transformation that centers on the well-being of the farmers and their families.

A key lesson that must be learned from 2020, especially in relation to COVID-19, is the appreciation of risks and uncertainty management. The back-to-back hazards experienced in 2020 need to be seen as paradigm shifting, and a call for the rethinking, recalibrating, redesigning, and rebranding of our farming systems as sustainable agricultural food systems. Integrated approaches that mainstream resilience in every node of the value chains of the agricultural food systems need to be made operational and sustained in 2021 and beyond. Hence, technological interventions and supported by innovations in policy, institutional, conceptual, and social aspects should be on the top of our priority so that we would be more able to comprehend these risks and uncertainties. Using a science-based management, we will be ready to step up and step out in response.

Given that the demand for major agricultural commodities remain under the pretext of highly evolving developmental challenges, we now call for a sustained investment in the agriculture sector that usher in technological leapfrogging in areas of production, logistics and transportation, value-adding activities, and science-based system of incentivizing consumers towards sustainable behavior. For crops production and post-production, we need more expanded systematic weather stations and precision agriculture systems that efficiently provide real-time information and aid for both immediate and long-term decision making. This is of course on top of the continued and expanded support to Filipino farmers for improved access to better agricultural inputs, especially quality seeds and stress-tolerant varieties, better animal and fish genetic breeds, mechanization, technical advice, good agricultural practices (GAP), and modern technological tools (i.e., best mobile apps for agriculture, drone technology), among others. For animal production, the name of the game is now an integrated farming system that is based on One Health/EcoHealth approach that calls for the operationalization of the triple bottom line approach: profit, people, and planet. Specifically, as impending threats like African Swine Fever and other zoonotic diseases remain, support is needed for improved access to better surveillance system, integrated biosecurity measures, and technology-based operation system (i.e., tunnel-vent technology), among others.

As we welcome 2021, SEARCA also enters the second half of the first year of its 11th Five-Year Plan (2020-2025) with an overall theme of "Accelerating Transformation Through Agricultural Innovation" (ATTAIN). As an institution championing excellence in agricultural and rural development (ARD) in Southeast Asia, we remain steadfast in our mission to elevate the quality of life of agricultural families through sustainable and resilient livelihoods and access to modern networks and innovative markets. The challenges we are collectively facing have strengthened our resolve to work towards the transformation of farmers "Transfarmers" to: (1) embrace disruptive agricultural technologies, (2) imbibe a transformational leadership mindset, (3) work with and empower next-generation agriculture graduates, and (4) work towards the bridging of divides and promotion of harmony. We are excited to work with our key partners and stakeholders as we are further emboldened in our resolve that investing in agriculture is the way to step up and step out in resilience towards accomplishing our vision of a better, bigger, and smarter future for the farmers and farming families in Southeast Asia.

Let 2021 be the year for better, bigger, and smarter steps.

God Bless our farmers.
God Bless us all.

Glenn B. Gregorio
Director and CEO
Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA)
College, Los Baños, 4031 Laguna