BusinessWorld focuses on agriculture and job-creation

CHEERS TO BusinessWorld for its special report on proposals to the Marcos administration  to develop agriculture and create jobs. 

BusinessWorld’s Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza recalled the  Ferdinand Marcos Jr. pledge during his campaign: to deliver “cheaper food, more jobs” and to continue Duterte’s infrastructure program. He also noted that Marcos Jr.’s landslide victory was aided by  “nostalgia” for his dictator father’s rule, but reminded readers that Ferdinand E. Marcos  left office with an “economy in collapse.”

The new President Marcos’ call for food sufficiency, as well as his choice to helm the Agriculture department  the article described as a turn toward “a populist direction.” It added that Marcos’ approach to agriculture calls for specific plans.

Achieving food self-sufficiency 

The article referred to experts for proposals that could help the administration deliver on its pledges. These touched on areas which have not been discussed much in the media, featuring sources with long-term views of the problems holding back agricultural productivity.

Roy Kempis, a retired Pampanga State Agricultural University professor, spoke on the promise of food sufficiency, and urged government to create more jobs in the agriculture and food sector to limit importation. The industry has to be modernized, producing workers who operate equipment effectively, and who can maximize scientific developments that improve yields. This  will require an agriculture curriculum that empowers students and teachers to meet industry challenges, Kempis said.

Atienza observed that this call to modernize is in line with that of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which has urged governments to to invest in sustainable agricultural mechanization “depending on the work to be done and on who is performing it.” 

Kempis also drew out the advantages of realizing the President’s renewable energy plans. He emphasized the agricultural benefits: alternative energy sources help power agricultural areas during natural calamities. He added that delivering on the “green promise” guarantees more jobs in clean energy.

Ayn Torres, an agricultural economist and researcher, predicted that achieving  self-sufficiency goals will “build the agricultural value chain,” and create more jobs in related industries. She then alerted government to the possibility of worker migration to areas with greater demand for agriculture and food jobs. The administration must be prepared to create sufficient labor supply, and maintain “equilibrium in the labor market,” said Torres. 

Measly wages, declining productivity, and  lack of investments are deep-seated problems the administration must address. Torres called for government’s review of basic wages in the agriculture sector, “which have historically been way below the minimum.” She added that low pay has contributed significantly to the poor employment rate in agriculture. Furthermore, those who enter into agri-business ventures get few incentives, highlighting a lack of support which the administration should address, Torres observed.

Critical reminder on infrastructure push

Atienza noted that the President’s promise of more infrastructure to benefit farmers will mean projects such as farm-to-market roads and irrigation facilities. The report referred to former Agriculture secretary William Dar’s transition report, which had advised the new government to award “big infrastructure projects” to the private sector. It further noted how some economists lauded the signals by the Marcos administration to shift to more public-private partnerships (PPP).  But the underside of the PPP’s was reviewed, as these work only when government is efficient and can “greenlight” and implement projects. 

Terry Ridon, convenor of the group InfraWatchPH, said  that without prompt government approval, there would be no “massive job generation” resulting from PPP’s.  Ridon echoed Torres’ concern about low wages, calling for increased wages and benefits for workers in the field of infrastructure – who like other workers leave the country for better salaries. 

The report lined up new voices in the discussion of agricultural issues, a refreshing turn in the discourse on a basic and fundamental aspect of the Philippine economy. 

With the President’s interest in agriculture, this field may get more attention from the media, getting journalists to make the issues of farm and countryside relevant to the increasingly urbanized communities in the country. After all, these communities will always need good and affordable sources not just of staple food products  but also the variety that brings both health and pleasure to their tables.