Interview: Proceso Alcala
How would you rate the state of agricultural infrastructure in the country? What areas are most in need of investment moving forward?
PROCESO ALCALA: While much has been accomplished over the past 1.5 years, much remains to be done, and we are now focusing especially on the development of post-harvest facilities. More than 12% of overall agricultural production in the Philippines is lost to wastage due to a lack of post-harvest facilities, which is far too much food that could instead be exported or used to promote food security within the country.
To begin with, the country’s farm-to-market road network is in need of improvement, and we are identifying those areas that would benefit the most from investment. For the larger agricultural infrastructure projects, we are pursuing the public-private partnership (PPP) model, and we have already lined up six developments for the near term. The Philippines is already receiving interest from both domestic and international investors in projects such as processing facilities, multi-purpose drying facilities and agricultural storage developments.
Another major focus of the current administration is the expansion and enhancement of the country’s irrigation system, which will also be offered through the PPP programme. We are also at present developing agricultural commodity trading centres throughout the country that will allow for direct bargaining between farmers and buyers, removing the middlemen and promoting more integration within the industry. The department is currently identifying the most cost-effective areas to pursue these developments and fine-tuning its policy in order to implement these projects as soon as possible.
What niche markets have been identified in which the Philippines can concentrate its agricultural development efforts?
ALCALA: Organic farming is the future of agriculture, not only in the Philippines but also across the world. Customers in wealthier Western countries are growing more health-conscious every day and are increasingly purchasing organic produce. This presents the Philippines with a good opportunity to expand its agricultural export base. It is important to address the common misconception that organic farming is necessarily more expensive than traditional farming. With fewer inputs, organic farming has the potential to be cost-competitive with traditional techniques and perhaps even cheaper. It all depends on supply and demand, and once economies of scale are attained in organic farming operations, the price will only decrease. Because of this, the department is currently prioritising training and education for organic farming techniques. We have also been very aggressive in the aquaculture sector, putting up several hatcheries for crabs and other marine products. The Philippines is anticipating the continued growth in demand for seafood and other aquaculture products throughout the world, and it is important to prepare the country to be one of the primary suppliers to this new demand.
How can the Philippines ensure a steady supply of human capital within the agriculture sector?
ALCALA: The current administration is taking a multi-pronged approach to this issue. The bottom line is that it is economics at the end of the day. Younger generations will only be willing to enter the agriculture sector if they see that older generations are able to generate sufficient income as farmers to sustain a certain standard of living. Therefore one of the primary focuses of the Aquino administration is to help reform the sector to improve communications between the various levels of the industry. At the university level, the government as well as a number of private sector players are providing scholarships to encourage and support students to study agriculture-related subjects. There has already been a positive response to these initiatives, with several universities reporting increased enrolment in such courses.
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