Searca: Rethink agri interventions

The government should “rethink” its interventions in the country’s agriculture sector as the lockdown caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) further reduced the number of farmers nationwide and their income, according to the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca).

During the Searca Online Learning and Virtual Engagements (SOLVE) webinar on food security, Searca Director Glenn Gregorio said there has been a 2.97-percent reduction in the country’s agricultural production into the second month of the lockdown, mainly due to a decrease in the number of farmers tilling the land.

“Due to lockdown, mobility restrictions result to quantity reduction in farm labor. If it continues longer, this would translate to reduction in agriculture productivity,” Gregorio said.

“The loss of income and economic slowdown would also result in decrease in demand, particularly among the farmers and farming families with no safety nets,” he added.

The Searca chief pointed out that the contraction in agricultural production is worsened by farmers’ limited access to farm inputs and markets to sell produce, resulting in profit losses and wastage of farm produce such as that in the vegetable capital Benguet.

He also added that the decrease in labor productivity due to Covid-19 could translate in reduction in gross domestic product among Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) countries.

To address this, Gregorio said the government should push for a “more collaborative” approach in solving the food security problem, which should be intensified between government, industries and the academe—the center and origin of many innovations and technology.

“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,” Gregorio said.

“[W]hat is positive about the crisis from the pandemic is the increasing support of consumers as a result of their understanding between what is on their plate and agriculture. This is what government should capitalize on,” he added.

Amid the Covid-19 lockdown, Searca noted consumers have realized that if they do not support Filipino farmers and the farm sector, they will have nothing to eat—not the ideal nutritious kind everyone desires.

“The agriculture sector could capitalize on this increasing support to identify several investments needed to strengthen the agriculture systems as food systems,” Gregorio said.