Agriculture to remain robust

The pandemic notwithstanding, agriculture was robust last year and will remain so.

The fearless forecast comes from the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) in Los Baños.

2020 saw agricultural production disrupted by a number of catastrophes that slowed down the pace by which it plays as an engine for economic development in Southeast Asia.

In the Philippines, while the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic crippled most of its key economic sectors, agriculture was able to maintain a positive growth, said Dr. Glenn Gregorio, SEARCA director.

“It must be acknowledged that there were earlier production growth targets that may not have been achieved. Being able to maintain positive growth is an enduring story of resilience at a time when it is needed the most,” Gregorio said.

It is in this light that “the overall outlook for agriculture in the Philippines for 2021 is generally positive,” he said in a yearend outlook for agriculture.

“We are banking on a more aggressive intervention from the government bolstered by heightened private sector engagement,” he added, noting that previous excuses for imperfections will no longer be acceptable this time.

The new normal means concrete actions that are wiser, effective, efficient and sustainable, Gregorio said.

“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,” he noted.

According to Gregorio, 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,” he said.

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.
“Using a science-based management, we will be ready to step up and step out in response,” Gregorio said.

Consumers too must be encouraged towards sustainable behavior, he said, calling for a sustained investment in agriculture that usher in technological leapfrogging in areas of production, logistics and transportation and value-adding activities.

Systematic weather stations and precision agriculture systems need to be expanded to provide real-time information and aid for immediate and long-term decision making.
Filipino farmers must have better access to improved agricultural inputs, especially quality seeds and stress tolerant varieties, better animal and fish genetic breeds, mechanization, technical advice and good agricultural practices.

Modern technological tools such as mobile apps for agriculture and drone technology, among others, must be available.

Since impending threats like African swine fever and other animal diseases remain, support is needed for improved access to better surveillance systems and security measures.

Gregorio pointed to the transformation of farmers or “transfarmers” that “embrace disruptive agricultural technologies.”

A transformational leadership mindset will work with and empower next-generation agriculture graduates, said Gregorio who heads one of the region’s topnotch graduate schools.

“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 farmers and farming families in Southeast Asia,” Gregorio said.

Overall, he said, SEARCA remains hopeful that 2021 “is a year when agriculture will significantly grow, and truly become an instrument for socio-economic transformation that centers on the well-being of farmers and their families.”