Saturday, May 11, 2013

“God helps those who help themselves”

That’s from Fr. Bel R. San Luis, SVD. One couldn't miss his two successive columns (Manila Bulletin) especially when they appear to connect. "Faith without works is dead" appeared on 6 April 2013 and on the 7th, "After redemption, let's save ourselves." And the point is driven home by the April 5th Manila Times Editorial: “Bad news for our farmers. With less than two years to 2015, the Aquino administration is in a race against time in making the Philippine agriculture sector prepared for free trade under the AFTA.”

It is a race that our farmers are bound to lose as the editorial itself highlights: “[I]t is not uncommon to hear stories of rice farmers still trapped in perpetual debt and poverty, and those selling their lands because they had given up farming for good . . . Also, the Philippines trails its Southeast Asian neighbors in implementing Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). According to a study conducted by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture, the Philippines only has four GAP-certified farms, namely: Del Monte Philippines (pineapple); Basic Necessity, Inc. (lettuce and herbs); Cardava Integrated Inland Farming (cardava banana); and Leonie Agri-Corp. (various vegetables) . . . Meanwhile, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam have granted GAP certification to thousands of their farms.”

Philippine farm output grew only by 2.92 percent in 2012, which means that it did not match the growth of other sectors of the economy in helping the country achieve a 6.4-percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth last year . . . The rather low growth of the agriculture sector last year caught the attention of Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, who said that sector’s potential as a growth driver and source of poverty reduction is not being maximized. He even cited the potential of the agriculture sector to provide jobs for skilled workers in the rural areas . . . On top of that, the agriculture sector can also be a driver for developing the country’s manufacturing sector, since raw agriculture produce can be processed into various finished products, and not only food products.”

The potential of agriculture is indeed there, yet it will not happen overnight especially when we look at our “four GAP-certified farms” while “Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam have granted GAP certification to thousands of their farms.” In other words, it is not going to happen between now and 2015 and most likely will not happen within the current administration.

Major undertakings demand more than the politics implied in the Manila Times editorial – i.e., is Alcala right for the agriculture post or is it Pangilinan? It demands national leadership, focus and priority. For example, agribusiness is amongst the seven strategic industries teed up by the JFC (Joint Foreign Chambers) in Arangkada Philippines 2010, but it also includes infrastructure. Which means that we can’t look at agriculture in isolation and while a priority must be part of a sensible nation-building commitment, framework and exercise – and become the platform of PHL industrialization? Put another way, the object of the exercise must be to make the seven industries economically viable and sustainable. And clearly that is challenging enough – and what more if 50 industries all want to be in the mix? That would simply be falling into trap of “crab mentality”?

And which is why the admonition of Fr. San Luis is timely: “God helps those who help themselves.” And that holds true especially given our dismal track record. ASEAN integration, which created AFTA, was signed over 20 years ago and we are merely paying the price very dearly today. And so while as an economist writes in his column that there are positives in AFTA that we can and must leverage despite the time constraints, this is a “teachable moment” that we ought to seize. More to the point, we didn’t demonstrate virtue with our complacency. We can’t be our worst enemy.

No comments:

Post a Comment