Agri-fishery modernization not achieved despite AFMA—report

Economic experts are stressing the importance of improving the agricultural and fisheries sector to ensure Philippine post-pandemic recovery, noting that 25 years following the passage of the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA), the sector has progressed but has not “modernized.”

Roehlano Briones, Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) senior research fellow and author of a new report on agri-fishery modernization, said AFMA, or Republic Act No. 8435, was considered a landmark law when enacted in 1997. AFMA is the key legislation for sustainable and equitable development of Philippine agriculture, setting down an ambitious program of modernization with emphasis on the welfare of small farmers and fisherfolk.

However, Briones, who presented his study findings in a recent PIDS webinar, said that based on the AFMA’s objectives, the country has not attained agricultural modernization as envisioned by this law.

“Progress has been made but [the sector has] not really modernized according to those objectives. And in fact with business as usual—if we [will be] conducting our strategies and programs and actions in the next 25 years as [we did] in the first 25 years, no, we will not see it being modernized even in the short to medium term, say, within this coming administration,” said Briones.

He noted that the sector’s total factor productivity (TFP), a comprehensive measure of productivity, has shown that the sector’s growth has ranged “from mediocre at best and negative at worst” from the 1960s to 2016.

“TFP unfortunately suffered a decline from 2011 to 2016, i.e. actual output growth was lower than expected given the observed growth in factors of production. In contrast, from the 2000s onward, TFP growth in most other countries in [Asia] actually accelerated and sustained a relatively fast pace,” Briones said in his study entitled “Modernizing Agriculture and Fisheries: Overview of Issues, Trends, and Policies.”

More tellingly, Philippine agricultural exports have fallen far behind those of neighboring countries. From 1990 to 2019, export growth averaged 3.8% per year over the period. However, this is dwarfed by the 6.2% annual growth of Indonesia, and the 4.5% annual growth of Thailand. Even Vietnam managed to grow its agricultural exports by 11% per annum since 1997, Briones said.

Agriculture used to contribute a significant share (42%) of exports in 1980, but has since diminished to just a 10% share by 2019; in contrast, Indonesia has managed to increase its agricultural export share from 22% to 26% over the same period. And while Thailand and Vietnam also experienced steep decline in agricultural export share along with the Philippines, their overall export growth was much more rapid. Hence, by 2019, Thailand’s agricultural exports were six times higher and Vietnam’s four times higher than the Philippines’.

PIDS president Aniceto Orbeta Jr. in his welcome remarks said: “A productive and sustainable agricultural sector is essential in the post-pandemic recovery.” The improvement of the agricultural sector is a crucial factor in economic development, the attainment of sustainable economic goals, poverty and hunger alleviation, food security, and agricultural productivity enhancement, he said.

Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) statistics show that around 24.3% of the country’s total employment in 2018, equivalent to more than 10 million Filipinos, was employed in agriculture.

“Yet the latest PSA data also showed that farmers and fisherfolks have the highest poverty incidence among the basic sectors at around 31% and 26%, respectively,” Orbeta said.

The sector is also hounded by issues such as low productivity, its contribution to the country’s gross domestic product declining from 15% in 2009 to 9% in 2019, as well as underperformance, with the industry lagging behind manufacturing and services, he continued.

Reactor Rodolfo Vicerra, undersecretary for attached agencies of the Department of Agriculture (DA), said that one way to fill the gaps in AFMA implementation is to organize the farmers and fisherfolks better.

While farmers’ and fishers’ associations are plentiful, these are more like loose groupings “where the discipline of managing their enterprise and their activity is not there,” he said, commenting that “this is one area that has to be highlighted in future programs of the Department of Agriculture.”

Meanwhile, Larry Lacson, co-chair of the agriculture and fishery committee of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), observed that the sector faces so many problems, but the farmers and fishers are simply left to face them on their own.

He said to help them cope with these challenges, PCCI recommends amending the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law to allow the increase in landholding size to encourage investments and modernization as well as institutionalizing more programs promoting modern technologies.

Moreover, the country should not be made dependent on importation. “If there is a need to import, there should be a sound strategy to avoid depressing the farmgate price,” as this inflicts severe harm on the domestic sector, Lacson said.

Raul Socrates Banzuela, chief of staff of the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka, in his reaction speech to the Briones study, agreed that progress has been made but modernization is far from being realized.

He said majority of farmer households around the country live below the poverty line and constantly face dire conditions such as hunger, typhoons and displacement.

To uplift the lives of farmers and fishermen, Banzuela proposes more legislation such as an agriculture cooperatives act, a magna carta for young farmers, and a national land use act.

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