Friday, February 20, 2015

Utter neglect of agriculture

We cannot seem to succeed in implementing any major economic program our planners draw up in glowing colors. We have been trying to industrialize but can’t get anywhere. The country is described as agricultural but is a net importer of many farm products particularly rice the Thais learned to plant from the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños. 

I will never understand why this country imports fresh and processed tamarind, vegetables, and other foods, also from Thailand. They can be made here, but nobody seriously tries. 

In fact, the Filipino cannot even produce enough of these products for his family. So we import. 

Given this sad situation, the Philippines is no longer an agricultural country. Neither is it industrial. We have lost the reputation of being the world’s largest exporter of copra and coconut oil. 

We lost the commercial farms to land reform. The land for the landless program, being a purely political decision disguised as an effort to get the poor out of the quagmire he was born to, resulted in substantial decline production of agricultural products such as coffee. 

The country consumers 100,000 tons of coffee but the country can produce only 20 percent or 20,000 tons of the beans. 

The 17 sugar mills in Negros Occidental cannot have enough cane to mill. Again, the reason is hundreds — if not thousands of  hectares of sugarcane land — have been distributed to the landless. 

The sugar industry was denied the basic requirement of economic size. So, in lean seasons we import sugar although we try to fill our sugar quota allocated by the United States. 

When the sugar barons got to know for certain their lands will be distributed to the landless, not always to their tenants, they stopped modernizing their farms with new equipment. Management has always been with the family. 

As repeatedly asserted on this space, the Laurel-Langley agreement that gave Philippine sugar a special price in the US market left the sugarcane planters completely complacent. 

They found no need to make their farms efficient. There was no need to invest more. The US market was giving the planters (and millers) oodles of money without really working for it. 

Thus they built palatial homes in the middle of their haciendas. They bought expensive apartments in Manhattan or built homes in the suburbs.. The sugar bloc became an awesome political clique that helped in the election of presidents. 

The Philippine National Bank was a sugar bank. Complacency brought about by a market assured by the L-L helped bring the sugar industry closer to its present state... Land reform made it walk faster to the grave. 

We cannot seem to find our bearings in agriculture. Sweet potato has more nutrients than rice. But we cannot produce enough of it. Strangely, the Board of Investments provides incentives including tax holiday for agriculture projects. I do not think the program is half as successful as the government bureaucrats expect they would be. 

The country with a land area of 300,000 square kilometers is too small for 100 million people. We are still counting. There will be more mouths to feed in the coming years while agricultural production is on a steady decline.

Examples of utter neglect of agriculture and natural resources particularly the forests are there to be seen. The forest was made bald by illegal loggers. Even businessmen we thought were guarding the forests helped in their destruction.

We have not assessed the effects of the “integrated forest management agreement” with loggers fostered when Heherson Alvarez was secretary of environment and natural resources. 

This country has long lost its rain forests. The mountains are bald. Mudslides kill people eking out a living at the foot of the mountains. 

I thought the World Bank gave the Philippines a grant of $100 million for reforestation. The money was obviously misused. There was no replanting of centuries-old trees felled by ghouls. 

Don Pedro Picornel, a powerful man in the Soriano group came up with the idea of organizing PICOP — Paper Industry Corp. of the Philippines — in Bislig in Mindanao. It did not go much beyond producing craft paper and newsprint.

 It soon ran out of trees although it had a reforestation program it funded itself. PICOP encouraged planting of   long-fibered trees most ideal in the production of paper products. 

The program did not work. Government was almost completely indifferent to the duty of encouraging the growth of agriculture, mining and forestry. 

As in all market-driven systems, the self-adjusting mechanism eventually started to work. The service industry is fast becoming a driver of growth. 

A wise man said centuries ago “the past is prologue.” We have not learned from the lessons of the past. That is the neglect I have always talked about.

We have economic programs drawn up in glowing terms. Implementation has always been the problem. We talk a lot. We do less.

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