Sunday, September 19, 2021

Valuing food security

THE agriculture sector, in principle, plays a critical role in the Philippine economy.

However, throughout the years, achieving food sufficiency and sustainability remains a challenge throughout the years as the agricultural sector has endured several issues, which needs to be addressed both by the government and the private sector.

In 2020, the country's high growth sector is facing further challenges. In Davao Region, the feared African Swine Fever (ASF), a dreadful hog virus, had infected thousands of hogs, starting at a town in Davao Occidental in late January this year, until it had already reached almost the entire region as of December this year. The spread of the ASF was feared to jeopardize the hog industry.

Before the first quarter ended, the mysterious virus in China, which was later on named as the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) had also reached the country. The imposed lockdowns within localities had gravely affected, not only the mobility of people but also the delivery of goods and services.

Speaking at the virtual 29th Mindanao Business Conference in September this year, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) agriculture director Roberto Amores said the health crisis has led the majority of Filipinos to see the value of agriculture to ensure food security amid the movement restrictions to contain infections.

Local leaders had laid down measures to ensure that the production of food and other agricultural services won't be hampered by the quarantine restriction.

Amores noted that on top of being a big contributor to the country's economic growth, the sector has remained sustainable even amid the pandemic.

"The health crisis made us all realize the importance of agriculture," Amores said.

Most of the industry sectors plunged in terms of growth during the second quarter this year, but according to Amores the agriculture sector posted a one percent growth,

While this is a positive development for the sector, he cautioned that the growth remains "too small" and there is a need to strengthen the agriculture industries in Mindanao to improve the island's economy -- and the country in general.

With this, there must be a paradigm shift in the policies in response to the pandemic situation to ensure that the food supply and demand won't be disrupted.

Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Assistant Secretary Romeo Montenegro, for his part, said that despite the constraints, and challenges, there can still be done so much in the agricultural sector.

"Given the impact of the pandemic, particularly the lockdowns in the economy with double-digit dip in the industry and services sector, we still afloat in the agriculture output," Montenegro said.

It only proved the strength of the sector, particularly in Mindanao, wherein a third of the island's land area is devoted to agriculture, at this time of pandemic to put more focus in scaling up the industry.

Although it cannot be done "as business as usual" despite the lowering down of the quarantine restrictions, as it is still not an assurance that things would improve by next year, this even the rolling out of vaccines in the country would materialize.

The present challenges in the market, logistics, and in mobility still disrupts the continuity of the supply chain.

With some local government's having different protocols and policies, he said the navigation of products won't be as smooth sailing unlike before.

"There really has to be a major effort in integrating necessary adjustments to be able to navigate through the current situation," Montenegro said.

In fact, in their assessment, he said the pandemic provided opportunities for the local player's in the export setting, not only to other parts of the country but even abroad.

On the other hand, Minda rolled out specific initiatives and programs to widen economic opportunities for local farmers and other key players in the agriculture sector.

The agency is also scouting other areas to "trigger" food production and opportunities, which would help in addressing the supply chain challenges brought about the Covid-19 pandemic.

While the uncertainty of the pandemic remains to be seen, Montenegro said there is no reason for the country's agriculture sector to collapse.

With the advancement of technologies, particularly on social media, its leverage can help penetrate a better market opportunity.


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