Manufacturing activity in the country has been picking up pace and is reported to be on course to have the fourth quarter its strongest for 2017.
This is thanks to government policies encouraging investments in the manufacturing sector. However, if the government is to make a big dent on cutting poverty, it should exert more effort in boosting the agriculture sector.
Poverty in the Philippines remains concentrated in the countryside. Two-thirds of the poor are in rural areas dependent on jobs and incomes from farming or fishing. Statistics show that poverty incidence has also been historically high in this sector.
In its 2015 Poverty Statistics for Basic Sectors report, the Philippine Statistics Authority identified farmers, fishers and children as the sectors with the highest poverty incidence among nine basic sectors identified in the Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Act.
Poverty incidence among farmers was recorded at 34.3 percent; fishers, 34 percent; and children, 31.4 percent.
These sectors also consistently registered as the three sectors with the highest poverty incidence in the 2006, 2009 and 2012 surveys. The poverty incidence in these sectors also exceeded the national average of 21.6 percent.
What then needs to be done?
Subsidizing irrigation and distributing free seeds to farmers can do only so much.
Uplifting the agriculture sector requires a comprehensive program to tackle the different problems and bottlenecks hindering its growth and, in turn, the employment and incomes in the farm and fishery segments.
Studies have shown that among the projects in the rural areas, farm-to-market roads appeared to have the most significant impact on the communities.
Given that rural infrastructure is critical to agriculture development, the absence or lack of rural infrastructure in the Philippines has been cited as a major reason for its poor agricultural productivity and the resulting high rural poverty.
There are pockets of success stories and micro programs worth adopting on a larger scale in the agriculture sector. There is this program of the Kapampangan Development Foundation led by businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan to get 30 one-hectare farms to serve as catalytic models in transferring technology and improving small farmer incomes.
The Zamboanga Research Center of the Philippine Coconut Authority has also shown how technology can significantly help coconut farmers overcome poverty.
For instance, it noted that when little technology was used, a farmer earned an average annual net income per hectare of only P20,000. By adding a mere P2,400 for micronutrients, the farmer made a net income of P57,600. With the added use of hybrid technology with a one-time investment of P2,500 for the next 60 years, the net income jumped to P125,100.
Then there is the experience of Leyte, which has managed to rise from the devastation of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” by focusing on agriculture.
The local government solicited the help of government agencies and the private sector to introduce livelihood activities such as higher-value organic vegetable farming. With the added focus on the health and skills of the residents, poverty significantly decreased.
In one barangay, it was reported that 36 formerly poor farmers now collectively earn P12 million in annual revenue from agriculture.
While the target of the provincial government is to adopt the program for the whole of Leyte, it is starting one barangay at a time until there will be 300 model villages by 2019 successfully earning from agriculture.
There are a lot of other little success stories in the agriculture sector that have successfully addressed poverty. It is just a matter of studying them and replicating those that can be replicated in other rural areas where poverty is a big challenge.
Simply put, poverty cannot be addressed if agriculture continues to be neglected. If the government wants to lick the poverty problem, it should focus on boosting agricultural productivity as a national policy.