FARM-TO-MARKET connectivity remains to be a major hurdle in maximizing agricultural productivity, this was among the list of recommendations in the World Bank-initiated "Philippines Mindanao Jobs Report: A strategy of Mindanao Regional Development".

"Instead of rising agricultural productivity paving the way for a vibrant manufacturing and services sector linked to the agriculture value chain, the converse has taken place in Mindanao. Agriculture is not very productive except for a few export crops, manufacturing is constrained by inadequate infrastructure, and the low-productivity, low-skill services sector has become the catch basin for excess agriculture workers who cannot find jobs in cities. Lack of competition in key sectors, insecure property rights, complex regulations, and severe underinvestment in infrastructure, education, and health—all exacerbated by the deficient institutions—have led to this anomalous growth pattern, which has left the majority of the Mindanawons without good jobs and has led to the emigration of many talented people. In addition, conflict arising from land disputes deters investment and job creation," the report's executive summary reads in discussing the dire economic straits that continue to prevail in Mindanao.

This cannot be allowed to fester on as it has been allowed to for decades, considering that Mindanao, as the report pointed out, "is the Philippines’ main source of agricultural products". Most of the food that the whole country needs, is being sourced from Mindanao.

"Attention should center on selection of product clusters in the poorest and most conflict-affected areas while ensuring linkages to Mindanao’s main agricultural processing and trading hubs, urban centers, and mobilizing the combined resources of government, private industry, academic/ training centers, financial institutions, and NGOs. For communities, (re)-building social cohesion will be crucial, as will support for dispute resolution mechanisms and legal aid to resolve land-related disputes. This would also enhance urban functions in rural development; access to finance by integrating Islamic financing principles; and increasing the number and quality of jobs on and off the farm," the report said. And this is but one of the aspects that need looking and investing into.

That does not mean that it cannot be done. It only means that with a study that threshes out the bottlenecks and the underdevelopment that has tied rural Mindanaoans to seeming perpetual poverty, governments, both local and national and private sector can sit down and check how cooperation to bring about the envisioned inclusive development can be achieved.

It can be said that the neglect that Mindanao has been suffering from for decades has been among the reasons why development of the country as a whole has been stunted, add to that the type of development that was encouraged.

"Unlike Luzon and the Visayas, which had a more diversified, innovative, and labor-intensive economic structure, Mindanao’s economy was driven by plantation crops, forestry, mining, and heavy manufacturing to support an import substitution regime. Because these sectors were capital-intensive, involved little local processing, and reinvested little profit locally, they had low local multiplier effects. While they contributed to Mindanao’s high GDP per capita in earlier years, they created few jobs and hence did little to reduce poverty," the report said.

There is a lot of catch-up to do. Starting with what the study is pointing out is a good place to start where it presents a strategic approach "to ensure spatial focus, pinpoint targeting of beneficiaries, and appropriate sequencing and linking of priorities."

This strategy stitches three main goals, the number one of which is to raise agricultural productivity and improve farm-to-market. Next is to boost human development; and then address drivers of conflict and fragility and build up institutions in ARMM and other conflict-affected areas.

There's a lot of work that has to be done.