by Ronna Marie A. Badua

Change is coming! So goes the tagline of our elected president, Hon. Rodrigo Roa Duterte.

Indeed, change is already here at the Department of Agriculture.

After the inauguration of former North Cotabato Gov. Emmanual F. Pinol as Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, he mentioned some changes he wants to implement within the DA Family.

He emphasized that corruption has no place in the Department; “Corruption will not be tolerated in this Department. Not anymore.”

He does not want to work in a dirty working environment; “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

Most of all, he would want all employees to work harmoniously as a team and forget old disagreements or even feuds; “I will not tolerate in-fighting within this department or within the offices of this department. Settle your differences like matured individuals or else I will assign you both to offices so distant - maybe one in Tuguegarao, Cagayan Valley and the other in Bongao, Tawi-tawi - so that you will never see each other again.”

 

We also know that the man was sincere with his advocacy in making Philippines a self-sufficient country in terms of agriculture and fisheries; “It has now become a must that this country has to achieve sufficiency in rice and other basic food commodities. It is no longer just a choice.”

These pronouncements were so intense that change is truly felt within the four corners of DA, national and regional levels alike.

However tough though it is to manage one of the most important departments in the government, our beloved Secretary is still human in its truest sense. Five days into taking his oath as the highest official in the Agri-world, he wrote in his Facebook account that he will miss the smell of his farm. He says the happiest and the most serene moments of his life was spent within its grounds. His farm is where he finds joy and fulfillment. But, he also knows that the times he will be spending in his farm would now be limited due to the demanding nature of his job as the DA Secretary.

During his Oath at the Malacanang Heroes Hall, he has written how he recalled his father, a teacher and also a farmer, would lead them to the farm in the wee hours of the morning to work. He said even as a child, he understood the hardships of a farmer’s life. He knew work was tough but the rewards were insufficient. He remembered how he, as a young man left the farm in search for a greener pasture in the big city. Thus, food sufficiency has become his major thrust so that the young generation from the rural areas would not leave their homes to seek for a living.

This is the heart of the new DA Secretary. His life has been dedicated to farming since he was a young boy. Now let us get to know some little facts about Sec. Manny Pinol:

MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN GOVERNANCE

  • Simplified Governance by identifying the basic needs of the communities in the town of M’lang through 5 letters: W-L-R-L-P which stand for Water, Light, Roads, Livelihood and Peace.
  • Initiated the bottom-up agricultural planning program which designed the priority crops approach in North Cotabato focusing on four major crops: rubber, oil palm, banana and coconut. This approach rapidly transformed North Cotabato from one of the poorest provinces in the country in 1998 to one of the Top 30 Provinces with Lowest Poverty Incidence in 2007.
  • Initiated the establishment of Monitoring and Advisory Group for the implementation of the World Bank funded Mindanao Rural Development Program (MAG MRDP) which greatly contributed to the effective monitoring and success in the implementation of the program.
  • Initiated the historic legal battle before the Supreme Court against the proposed Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain which would have created a semi-independent Bangsa Moro State in the Southern Philippines, a position supported by the Liberal Party leadership.
  • Designed the concept of Corporate Governance for Local Government Units to generate revenues for LGUs dependent on the IRA while at the same time providing employment for local residents.

Here’s what the Department Head thinks about the fundamental things that needs to be done in order to achieve a food sufficient country:

  1. The Department of Agriculture must focus on its basic mandate which is food production and corruption must stop. Funds and resources must be concentrated on the task of producing food both from land and the sea. All other non-essential projects must be shelved in favour of undertakings which contribute directly to food production and greater income for the farmers and the fisherfolk.
  2. For rice production to increase, an inventory and review of the capacity of irrigation systems to provide water should be conducted. There is a huge discrepancy between the rated capacity of the irrigation systems and the actual area served. Existing irrigation projects must be rehabilitated or repaired to enable these to hit the rated capacity. There could never be a successful rice production program if there is no sufficient water. Remember, Food Grows Where Water Flows.
  3. Government money must not be wasted on the mega-irrigation projects which take 10 to 15 years before these are completed, if at all, and focus must now be on cost-effective and environment-friendly small communal irrigation and small water impounding projects. In areas where the water level is shallow, solar-powered or gas-powered water pumps could be used. So many of these huge irrigation projects costing government billions of pesos in foreign loans are not operational until today, some of them already 20-years in the making.
  4. Rice farmers, along with other grains farmers and fisherfolk, should be given the all-out support, especially since they are coming from a 7-month-long drought. I am proposing an additional P30-billion calamity assistance to the rice and corn farmers and the fisherfolk to provide them with the needed inputs, like seeds, fertilisers and others in the case of the rice and corn farmers. After this “final push,” farmers must be given easy access to financing, seeds, fertilisers and farm inputs.
  5. An additional 1-million hectares for rice production expansion must be identified and the necessary infrastructure must be provided which would make these productive within one year after these are opened up.
  6. Most of all, rice farming must be mechanized whenever and wherever this is applicable. Every rice key production area must be provided with tractors, mechanical rice planters and harvesters. If possible rice processing centers must be established at the farm level to ensure that post-harvest losses are minimized.

Secretary Pinol also highlighted President Duterte’s commitment to make food affordability be realized.

In a statement made by the President to the incoming Secretary during his announcement of the latter’s appointment as the lead of the agricultural sector on May 16, 2016, his firm order was: “Ensure available and affordable food for the Filipino.”

And like a good soldier that he is tasked to combat the persistent and disturbing truth of poverty in the land, he complied. Accordingly, the Secretary has been doing the rounds and he found out some inconsistencies with the pricing of agricultural products. He said the Food Supply Chain in the country today is controlled and even to some extent manipulated by the merchants and the traders. It is the trader who determines how much the price of farmers produce is and it is still the trader who dictates the cost of the food in the market.

The farmers remain poor and the consumers are confronted with high priced commodities. It is a losing situation on both ends while the trader enjoys a 14huge profit from agricultural pricing and selling. He has this to say to the greedy traders who take advantage of the farmers’ vulnerability, “I understand your business but do not be too greedy. Stop squeezing the farmers and fisher folk dry and making life hard for the consumers. Just remember this, we have a President who thinks out of the box.

If you cannot control your greed, you may end up holding an empty sack.

These are the things he cited as solution to the exaggerated price of basic commodities at present:

  • First, the Department of Agriculture under President Duterte’s leadership will support the farmers and fisher folk to ensure that their cost of production is lower and their yield or catch is increased.
  • Second, there has to be a way to lessen the Middlemen’s level of control in determining the buying and selling price of food commodities. This could be done by turning farmers and fishermen into small entrepreneurs themselves giving them direct access to the market. For Rubber Farmers, for example, I would like to see them grouping themselves and forming a company or corporation which would get involved with the processing of their rubber products and start the manufacturing of bicycle, motorcycle or car and pick tires at the farm level. For the Rice Farmers, they too could be organized and given the necessary support so that they will have their own Rice Processing Centers at the Farm Level.

To a skeptic and a non-believer, this may seem idealistically impossible. But then again, who knows what is in store for us in the future?

We could only tell that as a part of the Department of Agriculture, we the NCI family fully supports the Secretary’s vision and firmly believes that we can make things happen if we work hand in hand.

So who’s up for giving change a chance?

Chances are, we can win this fight against poverty….