The Manila Times

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INVESTING in agriculture and focusing on agribusiness could lead to sustainable rice production in the country, a former Agriculture chief said. Guesting at the Business and Politics show hosted by The Manila Times CEO Dante “Klink” Ang 2nd, former Agriculture secretary William Dar said it was time to treat farming and fishing as an agribusiness venture. “We need to elevate our mindset in treating agriculture [as] an agribusiness venture. Otherwise, as we said before, subsistence farming [with] 1 hectare average… will lead to backyard agriculture,” said Dar. He also considered agribusiness as a way to boost the farming industry. Dar cited the importance of farm clustering. “Production can be handled much better in terms of increasing productivity per unit area by the farmers. Then the cooperatives will handle the market, and we’ll handle the agribusiness opportunities for the group,” he said. The farmers will be much more productive and earn a higher income “because they are now looking at the whole value chain much more,” Dar said. He said investing, particularly in irrigation infrastructure, could improve the long-term sustainability of rice production. “Rice production is dependent on water … we still need to develop irrigation systems good for 1 million hectares,” he said. The National Irrigation Administration (NIA) could only irrigate around 35,000 hectares of farmlands every year, way below the 1 million hectare target. The government can reach the target within the next five years through privatepublic partnerships, he said. Dar also noted that building more farm-to-market roads could boost agricultural productivity. “With more farm-to-market roads, you can encourage more production not only in rice but for other crops, high-value crops, fruit trees, plantation crops,” he said. Dar said there are other crops with market potential, such as cacao, coffee and coconut. Among the factors affecting the local rice situation are India’s export ban on white rice and Vietnam’s plans to tighten rice exports, Dar said. “There has been panic, and so there is now the existing price cap implemented by the government, but everyone is also aware that there are consequences of this price gap,” he said. Farmers get P20 per kilo of palay, and with the current rice price cap, the per-kilo price of palay is down to P14 to P16. “The global rice market is a very thin market, about 5 to 6 percent of global production,” he said. “So if China is affected and other countries are affected, really we will also be greatly affected as an importing country,” Dar said. He said he is for lowering tariffs to manage the price of rice. Through the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL), imported rice from Asean countries bears a 35 percent tariff. “Now, I wouldn’t believe that because the very objective of the tariff is to really collect for the rice farmers,” Dar said. About P17 billion was collected out of the tariff, and P10 billion is being allocated annually for the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF). Dar said the remaining P7 billion can be given as assistance to the rice farmers tilling less than two hectares. He said the farming industry needs to be more robust if it is to benefit from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). “I think again, the name of the game for RCEP is competitiveness... in terms of leveling up your productivity and being globally competitive,” he said. The country must also bring down production costs, he said. “We need to up our game in terms of our export orientation,” Dar said. “That’s where most of the Asean countries now are ahead of us, because they have eyes on the export potential for their respective countries.”