Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Overhaul present system for agriculture extension workers, build capacity for global competitiveness

An “overhaul” of the present system regarding agricultural extension workers is needed in order to build global competitiveness.

News reports cited Mr. Yasunori Araki, an official of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan, saying that the Philippines had a “very poor government (agriculture) extension system,” pointing out that only private firms had good extension workers. Mr. Araki further observed that Filipino agriculture extension workers are “not so competent” and “take too much time” compared to agriculture extension workers from Thailand and Vietnam and this is a major stumbling block in getting foreign investments.

We can explore different options in making these drastic and urgent reforms, One is to review our current agricultural extension policy and institutionalize programs for agriculture and fisheries extension workers; another would be to work closely with the private sector for capacity-building that is at par with private and global standards. We will exhaust all options and look at the best possible solutions to this decades-old challenge.

While we acknowledge Mr. Araki’s observations about the need to build and strengthen the capacity of our agriculture and fisheries extension workers and of the policy itself, we also commit to turning this situation around as efficiently and as effectively as possible so that we aren’t discounted out of the race by our investor-neighbors. Matagal na naman po nating sinasabi na, kung hindi tayo kikilos para sa ating mga magsasaka at mangingisda ay maiiwan talaga tayo sa kangkungan. This statement from the Japanese government is a harsh wake-up call, but we needed to hear it.

We have long said that government needs to invest more in the agriculture and fisheries sector if it is to turn this nation around. We are an agricultural country, first and foremost, and if we want to achieve developed-nation status in 15 years, we will need to make radical changes in the agricultural sector to ensure food security for ourselves and the region. Instead of being a top importer of agricultural staples, we should turn the situation around to be one of the top exporters in the region, if not in the world.

We also have gains by a public-private initiative called Agriculture & Fisheries 2025 (AF 2025) as a “template” for reforming other areas of the sector. The combined efforts of AF 2025 stakeholders have made us effective in increasing the agriculture budget by 54% in 2012, as well as increasing crop insurance coverage and increasing the budget for the coconut industry. We can continue to tap AF 2025 as a resource in strengthening the agricultural extension policy and programs.

A concrete next step is to review a pending bill strengthening the national agriculture and fisheries extension system. The bill has already been heard and is now with the Technical Working Group. We will review this piece of legislation while looking at other alternatives so we can find the best possible course of action.

This matter is long overdue and must be regarded with urgency.

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