The COVID-19 pandemic hit the agricultural sector of the Philippines hard. Several families rely on their income from agriculture as more than 22% of the country’s population works in the agricultural industry. However, the pandemic particularly affected agricultural households because “agriculture-related occupations have always been associated with being income poor.” Many of those who solely rely on agricultural income do not have access to electricity, education, proper sanitation and more. COVID-19 serves to exacerbate these poor living conditions even further. However, the Philippines recognizes that the agricultural industry is a significant part of the country’s economy, thus, the nation has established initiatives aimed at modernizing the agricultural sector so that its citizens can thrive.
Disasters Affecting Farmers
Because of the impacts of both the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters, 2020 was an unfavorable year for the agricultural sector. The supply chain took a heavy hit with several obstacles, including lack of transportation, a decrease in demand and a low volume of exports. These factors all contribute to the decline of the agricultural industry and the country’s economy.
Due to pandemic-related quarantine restrictions, local farmers had to schedule market visits, which led to a rise in transportation costs. To make matters worse, several typhoons hit the Philippines, negatively impacting the economy, which is already suffering the effects of COVID-19. According to the FAO, typhoons in 2020 destroyed “agricultural equipment and other livelihood resources, significantly affecting those who are dependent on farming” for an income.
However, despite the difficulties that the agricultural sector faces, the Philippine government aims to improve the lives of farmers and the country’s economy by modernizing the agricultural sector in the country.
Modernizing the Agricultural Sector
In June 2020, the World Bank released a report titled “Transforming Philippine Agriculture During COVID-19 and Beyond,” which highlights the need to modernize the Philippines’ agricultural sectors. The report points out that while reconstructing the agricultural industry is a difficult process, it is necessary for a country to grow positively.
The World Bank offers ideas such as direct cash payments to farmers, investing in agricultural startups and increasing the use of e-commerce to modernize the Philippines’ agricultural sector and “reduce poverty in the rural communities.” The report supports the Philippines’ Department of Agriculture (DA) initiatives to transform the agricultural industry. Agriculture Secretary William Dar is adamant that the sector will recover in 2021, which in turn, will help with the overall economy’s recovery.
The Philippines’ 2021 overall economic growth target is 6.5%-7.5% and the agricultural sector’s growth target is 2.5%. The nation aims to achieve these goals “through further integration of technology that will improve production, connectivity and delivery of service to its beneficiaries.” Both the World Bank and the Department of Agriculture realize the potential of modernizing the agricultural sector of the Philippines. By reforming the industry through several different initiatives, the economy will improve along with the lives of farmers within the country.
Alongside the Philippines’ and the World Bank’s efforts to modernize the agricultural sectors, other organizations have focused themselves on the same initiative. One of these organizations is Agro-Eco Philippines, established in 2004 as a ”farmer-led national network organization.” Farmers created the organization for farmers, with farmers constituting 80% of the Board of Trustees. The organization has several ongoing initiatives, including modernization interventions, such as the “development and documentation of locally-adapted technologies.” Specifically, the organization runs a “community-based, farmer-led and participatory breeding program” for rice and corn crops, with “35 farmer-breeders with about 500 bred lines used by an estimated 30,000 farmers nationwide.”
Overall, it is apparent that agriculture plays a crucial role in both the Philippines’ economy and the lives of several families who rely on agriculture for an income. Families are struggling due to the pandemic’s impact on the sector, however, modernizing the agricultural sector with the help of institutions and organizations brings hope to improve not only the country’s economy but also the lives of the families reliant on the sector.
– Karuna Lakhiani