Interview: William Dar

How can the government ensure food price stability and the availability of fresh produce in light of pandemic-related disruptions to supply chains?

WILLIAM DAR: After the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, we intensified efforts to enhance the productivity of the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sector to ensure a continuous supply of healthy and inexpensive food. Production, transport and delivery operations were unhampered throughout the crisis – even in the early days of lockdown. Indeed, agriculture was one of the only industries to sustain continued growth, expanding by 1.6% in the second quarter of 2020.

By creating a resilient supply chain, producers will be able to sell their products at fair prices, with consumers benefitting. Two innovative programmes were implemented in this regard. The first is Kadiwa ni Ani at Kita – which loosely translates to “one idea, one thought” – a multi-platform initiative that resulted in the sale of around P6bn ($116.4m) of agri-fishery products between the start of the pandemic and September 2020, helping 1.9m households, 23,294 producers, and 4453 cooperatives and associations.

The second is a “new thinking”, science-based vision. It includes eight strategies to ensure a stable food supply: modernisation, industrialisation, export promotion, farm consolidation, infrastructure development, higher budget allocation and investment, legislative support and roadmap development.

Which producers stand to benefit most from the department’s Farm and Fisheries Clustering and Consolidation (F2C2) programme?

DAR: F2C2, which began in August 2020, enables the agriculture and fisheries sector to attain the economies of scale needed to achieve cost-effective production, harvest, processing and marketing operations, as well as subsequently increase farmers’ and fishers’ incomes. Its implementation is timely as the impact of Covid-19 increased demand for nutritious and affordable food.

F2C2 will encourage small-scale farmers and fishers to adopt clustering and consolidation in their production, processing and marketing activities. Traditional practices have not historically provided enough income to sustain the daily needs of producers. The focus of this programme will be on community production and processing projects, as well as promoting better organised production and value chain systems that will enable higher productivity and greater profitability.

In what ways will the Rice Tariffication Law affect production and supply of the staple?

DAR: The Rice Tariffication Law was designed to reduce the price of rice for consumers starting in March 2019. It also sought to boost productivity and tariff collection. In terms of trade, the legislation replaced the quantification of rice imports with tariffication. This is a more fitting approach, as it enables the government to collect tariffs on all imports. The collections will finance the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, which allocates P10bn ($194.1m) per year to measures that support local farmers’ efforts to increase production and enhance competitiveness, such as mechanisation, seed distribution, inbred varietals, training and credit.

What strategies is the government implementing to attract young people to farming?

DAR: Industrialisation is key to making agriculture attractive to the younger generation. Farmers in the Philippines are on average 60 years of age, so we need to attract entrepreneurs and young people to replace these individuals after their retirement. To achieve this, we launched an agricultural entrepreneurship programme that facilitates the use of public lands for agri-business and farming by young people, and provides funding for graduates with agriculture-related degrees. The initiative also features loan assistance of P300,000 ($5820) to P500,000 ($9700) with zero interest payable for five years, using a diploma as collateral.