To P-Noy and Alcala: The basics indeed but with revisions

BY MARLEN V. RONQUILLO

Filipinos generally agree with P-Noy’s focus on the basics, which he spelled out in his 20-minuter speech. A government agenda with a vast arch, in a context where funds are scarce and expectations for results are high and very urgent, is out of the question.

But the “ basics” should be the real thing: the most cost efficient, the ones that can produce real results.
Or, the game-changers, if you will. However, some of the specifics cited by PNoy in his inaugural are second priorities, not basic and urgent programs. These should be revised by a process of shifting and tinkering.

Farmers are referring to P-Noy’s marching order to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala to put up farm trading centers to eliminate the cost at the middle, the big cut being made by agri traders of all sorts.
Farm trading centers are good, they are part of the program mix that would truly help the farmers. But on the ground, looking at things realistically, there are agricultural programs more urgent and more pressing than putting up trading centers.

What are these? Intense research and development to improve the country’s agri genetic stock is number one. Number two is improving the country’s broken-down irrigation system. Number three is filling in the inadequacy of post-harvest facilities.

Placing the priority on farm trading centers is just like putting the cart before the carabao. If there is no adequate produce, nothing could be sold at the trading centers.

We have to put in place sustained and prodigious agricultural production first, after which we can ready those farm trading center to ease the grip of the middlemen over agricultural trading.

This bit of history will hopefully enlighten both P-Noy and Sec. Alcala.

When the young Benigno Aquino Jr., took over Hacienda Luisita, the first thing he did was this: Not to worry over the marketing and trading side. What Ninoy did was to seek out the experts on modern sugar plantation technologies, both local and foreign experts. Via the experts, Ninoy sought out first-rate sugar technologies and genetics, modern methods of planting and the most modern machinery and sugar planting implements.

In short, the priority was putting in place the technology and superior sugar genetics to enhance the quality and quantity. Before solving the marketing and trading equation, the picul yield per hectare and the quality of the sugar (what was the percentage rate of conversion from cane to brown sugar, the so-called PSTC strength) were attended to, first and foremost.

I do not know if this is truth or hype. Sugar planters in Central Luzon believe that Ninoy Aquino introduced at Hacienda Luisita the pioneering irrigation technique for sugar. Sugar, unlike rice, needs calibrated, controlled irrigation water. Sugar cane is truly a tropical crop because sugar farms need regulated water intake. The story is that Ninoy recruited Israeli agricultural experts to experiment with a version of drip irrigation, which, until today, is standard within their farming communes.

We cant jumpstart agriculture without a competitive agri genetics. If there is a single item that should be given attention by the budget planners, this is the allocation of a starting fund of P5 billion for agri R and D. Our laggard status in Asian agriculture can all be traced to our under-funded, uninspired agri R and D.
Thailand, Vietnam and China are now possessed of a superior agri genetic stock that make up the foundation of their prodigious agricultural production.

The broken down irrigation system should be the second priority. Most of the rice farms in the Central Plains, except those in Nueva Ecija, plant rice one or two months late, no thanks to the failure of the irrigation systems to deliver water.

The service area of he irrigation systems has been shrinking. Still, the systems can’t deliver water on time to fulfill planting schedules, which a generation ago was done with precision.

The huge dams dry up during the summer months. They overflow and abet mass murder during the flood season.

What we actually need is a network of small water impounding dams that are easier and cheaper to maintain. These smaller systems can easily managed by farming collectives and irrigators associations.

The urgency of filling up the inadequacy in post-harvest facilities is very apparent. Anywhere from P10 to P15-billion worth of palay is lost yearly due to lack of post-harvest facilities. This is palay alone. Small onion growers have been under the mercy of cold storage operators for decades. Two months ago, I could not even find a corn sheller for my yellow corn harvest.

Not only do we lack post-harvest facilities. We are short, and the shortage is severe, on basic farm implements. This is very tragic but true: we import more Porsche Panameras than deep-plowing tractors on a yearly basis.

Before the state finalizes its agricultural program and put in the corresponding investments, there should be a resolute, rigorous determination and reordering of priorities.

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