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Dar’s paradigm shifts

We now have a true and seasoned agricultural expert at the helm of the Department of Agriculture (DA) in the person of Dr. William Dar, whose reputation precedes him. This brings forth hope that true change is coming in the sector that has been the biggest drag on the Philippine economy for far too long.

Secretary Dar espouses “new thinking” in his approach to managing Philippine agriculture, organized around eight “paradigms”:
(1) modernization of agriculture; (2) industrialization of agriculture; (3) promotion of exports; (4) farm consolidation; (5) roadmap development; (6) infrastructure development;
(7) higher budget and investments for agriculture; and (8) legislative support. I am reminded of how back in 2010, five paradigm shifts were recommended to then newly appointed Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala by a team of experts I was tasked to lead by the World Bank, whose advice he had sought. Having seen little change after six years, I presented the same recommendations to his successor, Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, shortly before he officially assumed office in 2016—but he again chose to move in a different direction.

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It thus heartens me to see the five paradigm shifts our team had suggested to the department nine years ago finding their way into Secretary Dar’s eight. We described those five recommended shifts as follows:
(1) from self-sufficiency to food security
as goal; (2) from focus on production to a holistic value chain perspective; (3) from
production targeting to performance indicators within the DA’s control; (4) from centralized top-down management to province-led devolution; and (5) from commodity-and project-oriented organization and budgeting to one that is function-oriented.

I will elaborate on three of these below, due to limited space. I will take up the rest in another article.

Secretary Dar’s two predecessors were quick to reject the first; they were certain they could achieve rice self-sufficiency quickly, with Alcala so sure he could do it in three, and Piñol even surer he could do it in two. While I had never questioned our country’s ability to do it, the relevant question had always been on its cost implications, i.e., at what cost to our people? Secretary Dar well understands that food security, for which food affordability is crucial, need not mean full self-sufficiency in food. An internationalist by long experience, he has witnessed how nations rated to be the most food-secure in the world are not necessarily self-sufficient—especially second most food-secure Singapore.

The needed shift in the DA’s focus from the production system to the entire agri-industry value chain would best happen if the DA could assume a broader mandate like Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, or Malaysia’s Ministry of
Agriculture and Agro-based Industry. Considering everything that happens beyond
the farm gate to be another department’s (Trade and Industry) responsibility has not worked for us, and Secretary Dar understands this as he professes to pursue industrialization of agriculture.

The DA’s performance has always been judged in terms of production levels of various crops and commodities, especially rice. Yet production is not something the DA can directly control; it is farmers and farm enterprises that do have direct control. Rather than be called to task for missing production targets, the DA should be held answerable on things they are able to control and manage, like “How high are farmers’ incomes?,” “How widely accessible is food?,” “How stable and affordable are food prices?” and “How have local government capacities for agricultural support been strengthened?” Secretary Dar’s professed goal of doubling farmers’ incomes (rather than, say, doubling rice production) is thus on the right track.

Philippine agriculture has been badly in need of a new direction, and changing mindsets and paradigms will be the first step.
I’ve known Secretary Dar for years, and I know he knows that his mission is to promote the greatest good for the greatest number. And even as his foremost constituency is
our nation’s farmers, he is quite aware that, ultimately, he serves all of the Filipino people as a whole.

[email protected]

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TAGS: department of agriculture, Dr. William Dar, Manny Piñol
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