Carvajal: Balik probinsiya

Break Point

IF radically upping our educational standards is a key strategy for the country’s long-term progress, agricultural development is the way to go in the short and medium terms. Balik Probinsiya (BP) is the other name or flip-side of agricultural development.

One cannot decongest urban informal settlements that Covid-19 now batters rather badly unless unemployed or underemployed settlers are magnetized by job and livelihood opportunities in their home province. Nobody goes back to the province if life there is as bleak as they left it.

It is, therefore, disheartening to hear cynics, apparently politically biased, shoot this program down just because, as one Inquirer columnist puts it, government spokespersons make it sound so easy to do. So, instead of suggesting how to make a success of an admittedly complex program she just dismissed it, in equally facile manner, as something that “should be scrutinized.”

Of course, it has to be scrutinized. Of course, it’s not easy. But I don’t know how anyone could miss seeing Balik Probinsiya other than as the other side of agricultural development, unless he/she is using politically shaded lenses. For, even without Covid-19 self-sufficiency in food is a no-brainer priority of any country especially of an agricultural one such as ours.

Moreover, even granting for the sake of argument that rapid industrialization is the ultimate road to economic development, we still have to start where our greatest strength lies, in agriculture.

Tourism’s sun rose to banish some of the bleakness of life in the country side but it also contributed to the neglect of agriculture. Covid-19 set it down and we don’t know when it will rise again. But now with Covid-19 also prodding us to decongest cities and attract people back to the province, we might finally go back to where we should have started our development. We might finally shift from subsistence farming to techno-based agriculture and agri-industrial value adding initiatives.

Like, why are Filipino farmers not producing crude coconut oil to sell to refiners, like they do in Taiwan, instead of selling copra to middlemen who make the most money from it? Unless farmers are enabled to add value to their produce at farm gate, they will remain at the mercy of middlemen.

I read somewhere that the Recovery Program being drafted by the National Economic and Development Authority includes a P1.49 trillion stimulus package. The General Appropriations Act of 2021 is also expected to provide for “massive spending in infrastructure, agriculture, health care and the food supply chain.”

Great. That makes BP feasible. Thus, if one is to be cynical, it is because we don’t know how much will go to the intended programs and how much to politicians’ pockets.


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