Despite the natural catastrophes that affected agricultural production in Southeast Asia, and the Covid-19 pandemic that crippled most of the key economic sectors in the Philippines, the agriculture sector in the country 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,” said Director Glenn B. Gregorio of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA).
Gregorio said 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,” he said in his yearend message.
“The year 2021 must be a year where previous justifications are to be rendered as no longer acceptable,” he said.
Instead, the touted “new normal” clearly means “concrete actions that are wiser, effective, efficient, and sustainable,” he added.
“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,” Gregorio pointed out.
The 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.
According to Gregorio: “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.”
He pointed out that “using a science-based management, we will be ready to step up and step out in response.”
As the demand for major agricultural commodities remain under the highly evolving developmental challenges, there is a 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,” he said.
Crop production and post-production 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.
At the same time, Filipino farmers need continued and expanded support “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, and modern technological tools (i.e., best mobile apps for agriculture, drone technology), among others, he pointed out.
For animal production, there is a need for integrated farming system 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, among others.
As SEARCA also enters the second half of the first year of its 11th Five-Year Plan (2020-2025) with the theme, “Accelerating Transformation Through Agricultural Innovation” (Attain), the center remains steadfast in its mission to elevate the quality of life of agricultural families through sustainable and resilient livelihoods and access to modern networks and innovative markets.
Gregorio said the challenges the sector is facing have strengthened the center’s resolve to work toward the transformation of farmers into “transfarmers.”
This will enable the sector to: 1) embrace disruptive agricultural technologies; 2) imbibe a transformational leadership mindset; 3) work with and empower next-generation agriculture graduates; and 4) work toward the bridging of divides and promotion of harmony.
He said, “Investing in agriculture is the way to step up and step out in resilience toward accomplishing our vision of a better, bigger and smarter future for the farmers and farming families in Southeast Asia.”