‘Go over food plan’

A downturn in agricultural production was worsened by farmers’ limited access to farm inputs and markets to sell produce due to mobility restrictions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

With this, the government needs to “rethink” interventions in the sector as the virus lockdown has further cut the number of farmers and their income, resulting in depressed demand for goods, food insecurity and declining Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

This was learned from Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, director of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), who said the sectors’ problems would further reduce agriculture productivity if not resolved immediately.

Gregorio, thus, proposed a more intensified collaboration between government, industries and the academe which he called the center and origin of many innovations and technology.
He said the agriculture sector could capitalize on boosting investment in strengthening the country’s food systems.

Imports crowd oud locals

Gregorio also noted the liberalized rice importation has been pushing down local palay price. If not complemented with appropriate safety nets program, this could send vulnerable farmers to avoidable poverty.

“With present consumer support, the government must expedite implementing more programs that also prioritize raising farmers’ income. Reforms may zero in on producing value-added farm goods or consumer-demanded finished products,” he said in a recent webinar.

“Our experience with COVID-19 highlights the importance of how we define food security. This becomes the basis of how we design programs and projects,” the SEARCA chief added.

Farmers retreat to home

Into the second month of the lockdown, a decline in agricultural production was pegged at 2.97 percent due to a decrease in the number of farmers tilling the land.

Gregorio warned that the loss of income and economic slowdown would also result in a decrease in demand, particularly among the farmers and farming families with no safety net.

As of 2019, the Philippines stood as one of the laggards in the Global Food Security Index in ASEAN, a widely accepted metric in measuring food security based on food availability and affordability.

This remains a critical concern as the Philippines was recorded to already have a serious undernourishment level at around 15 percent of its population as of 2017, making it the third most undernourished ASEAN country.