Searca calls for agri reforms to achieve food security

THE Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) called on the government to accelerate the transformation of the country's agriculture sector into a dynamic and highly productive sector, which can be done through long-term institutional and programmatic innovative interventions.

Speaking at the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc.'s (DCCCII) webinar titled "Recalibrate Agribusiness in New Normal" held on Thursday, Dr. Glenn Gregorio, director and chief executive officer of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), presented strategies on how to achieve goals of food security and sustainable food value chain in the country.

To do this, Gregorio said there is a need to rethink how the government and the Filipino public view Philippine agriculture and agricultural systems. "We have to change our view on farming as sustainable farming business. This is in contrast of farming as merely production," he said.

"However, we do not want our farmers to just be agripreneurs. We also want that the transformation of our farmers be innovate agripreneurs for food security," Gregorio added.

The SEARCA director stressed how the Covid-19 pandemic created supply and demand shocks affecting the relevant economic sectors, particularly agriculture. The loss of income and the economic slowdown also results to loss of the demand, heavily affecting local food producers. With this, he said the government should double efforts to sustain the community food through sustainable agribusiness.

"The way to be sustainable is to pursue agribusiness. If we don't progress in agriculture we won't progress so much economically," said Gregorio.

One way to do this is through establishing a firm Academe-Industry-Government Interconnectivity, he said. For production sector, Gregorio urged the government to support local capacity toward being self-sufficient through well-planned production and post-production systems and design financial technologies (FinTechs) to empower farmers and rural communities. Relatedly, it needs to promote incentive systems to support innovation studies and activities to improve production and post-production, increase efficiency, and promote value-adding activities, he said.

For Integrative Technology Innovations, Gregorio cited the need to invest on integrative studies assessing risks and uncertainties related to price volatilities, and climate change-related hazards that characterize farm production systems.

"There must be some programs in improving design of financial technologies for farmers and encouraging wider participation in these financial systems, as well as policies to support institutional and organizational interventions and made suitable to the cultural condition of a community that would be relevant both at the national and local conditions," Gregorio explained.

Meanwhile, the government must work on sustaining the interest in agriculture and agri-entrepreneurship in the country, according to Gregorio.

To do this, concerned government agencies must encourage full participation, particularly the youth and women, through a number of systematic education and mentorship programs with sustained incentives and innovative training modalities and backed with social safety net systems. To compliment this, Gregorio noted the need to strengthen the agricultural extension system of the Philippines through the Province-led Agriculture and Fisheries Extension Systems (PAFES) and the Community-based Participator Action Research Program (CPAR) of the Department of Agriculture (DA), among others.

"It is clear that the Philippine government performed fairly well given the challenges by the pandemic and natural hazards... but we should make agricultural food system responsive to food security and poverty reduction targets," Gregorio said.