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Editorial

Agriculture growth lags

/ 07:25 AM February 19, 2013

The good news is that the National Statistical Coordination Board reports that the Philippine economy grew by 6.6 percent in 2012. Then there’s the bullish performance of the Philippine Stock Exchange that for the first time breached the 6,500 benchmark last week.

However, the administration of President Benigno Aquino III can’t rest on its laurels since agriculture registered growth of only 2.7 percent.

That’s a tragedy in light of the fact that agriculture constitutes roughly a third of the country’s gross domestic product.

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The 6.6-percent economic growth was primarily fueled by progress in the industry and services sectors, by household consumption and external trade. Yet millions of people in rural areas who depend on agriculture for their livelihood continue to suffer poverty.

Like the rest of the archipelago, most of Cebu land is agricultural with a large population eking out a living from farming and fishing. The upbeat growth statistics come out of urban pockets.

When will agriculture be given the importance it deserves?

At last week’s 36th Governing Council in Rome of the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) of which the Philippines is a member, agency president Kanayo Nwanze reminded partners that a boom in agriculture can prompt twice more growth in an economy than growth in any other sector can.

“The emergence of higher and more volatile food prices, combined with dramatic droughts, floods, and famines, have concentrated world attention on the question of how to feed a global population that is over 7 billion and growing,” Nwanze said.

“Today, agriculture is center stage…  How we respond to today’s challenges will determine not only the shape of food systems in the near future, but also the health of ecosystems and the distribution of the world’s population.”

The Aquino government needs to implement full agrarian reform with dispatch if it is to empower farmers and push productivity to prepare for this global reality.

In the same Rome council, permanent Philippine representative to IFAD Virgilio delos Reyes Jr. said, “[It] is time to revisit measures to bolster resilience and adopt a systemic approach to assist smallholder agriculture.”

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Reyes late last year said the 4,335-hectare Hacienda Luisita of the President’s own Cojuangco kin will be distributed before April 2013.

The government should move heaven and earth to keep its word.

We applaud the Aquino administration’s cooperation with IFAD for instance in giving returning overseas Filipino workers the capacity to invest their remittances in agriculture.

But these visionary measures should not deafen it to the cry of farmers for technical assistance and ownership of land they have tilled for generations.

Farmers should never again have to stage 300-kilometer protest walks from Batangas to Malacañang as they did in 2008, or repeat the ordeal of Casiguran Marchers from Aurora province last year.

If the government continues to drag its feet on returning land to the farmers, it seriously risks a great loss in whatever political capital and moral ascendancy it possesses.

No less than Pope Benedict XVI, in his message at the IFAD council, stressed the need for “an effective drive towards legitimate agrarian reforms so as to guarantee the cultivation of lands, when these are not properly utilized by the proprietors, who sometimes restrict the peasant’s access to the land.”

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TAGS: Agriculture, Economy and Business and Finance, Philippines
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