Interview: Emmanuel Piñol
What is the Department of Agriculture’s strategy to become a net exporter of agricultural products?
EMMANUEL PIÑOL: The department has not set a specific timeline to become a net exporter of agricultural products. However, in the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-22 we are targeting an increase in the value of agriculture and fishery exports by 5% in 2018, 7% in 2019 and 9% every year thereafter until 2022. In order to achieve those targets, the department needs to develop and implement agriculture and fishery standards that are in line with international standards. The department also needs to strengthen its regulatory functions through capacity building, the provision of modern equipment and facilities, and to streamline regulatory procedures.
How will planned infrastructure projects under the Build, Build, Build programme alleviate bottlenecks in the agri-business supply chain?
PIÑOL: The Build, Build, Build initiative of the Duterte administration aims to usher in a golden age of infrastructure by investing P8trn ($158bn) in the short to medium term. According to the IMF, a sustained increase in public infrastructure spending to 5% of GDP may translate to an increase of 5% to 6% to GDP after 2030. The Department of Agriculture is looking at the construction of 13,000 km of farm-to-market roads that would alleviate bottlenecks in the supply chain, increase the productive capacity of the agriculture and fisheries sector, lead to the creation of jobs, increase incomes and result in inclusive growth. Overall, the department has identified 49 ongoing and pipeline infrastructure programmes and projects for the 2019-21 period that will receive P150bn ($2.9bn) in funding. This includes the construction of national and regional ports, roads, production, processing and research facilities, among others. These projects can contribute to agricultural growth by increasing the ability of those in the supply chain to meet market demand. Furthermore, it will allow for smallholders to capture market opportunities.
How can small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) sustain market share despite competition from large, multinational food products?
PIÑOL: Competition is stiff. In terms of promotions, multinationals can tap several platforms to increase their market reach. For SMEs and farming cooperatives, standards compliance is challenging, considering high production costs and the added costs of testing and certification. Government support should focus on assisting SMEs and cooperatives to help them organise effectively, enabling them to achieve higher bargaining power. The government should also prioritise training as well as the adoption of new technologies to meet changing needs. We should aim to decrease the dependence on imported materials and explore local products. Innovation can improve packaging and storage, reducing losses, adding value and ensuring standards compliance. Lastly, the government should ensure SMEs and farming cooperatives are aware of current market trends and related developments.
What can be done to strengthen crop insurance?
PIÑOL: There are many things that can be done to strengthen crop insurance services. First, advocacy campaigns are needed to educate farmers on the importance and necessity of crop insurance. Second, the Department of Budget and Management must approve the Department of Agriculture’s request for additional funds to cover more farmers and fishermen, and to hire additional staff to work at the provincial and municipal levels. Third, local financial institutions should be encouraged to offer crop insurance services and farm loans. Lastly, the Department of Agriculture should work with the Department of Science and Technology, the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, and other stakeholders to come up with the parameters to be included in weather-based insurance indicators.
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