Building Better: Modernizing Agriculture after Yolanda (Part 3)

Manila Bulletin, August 23, 2014 | Go to article overview

Building Better: Modernizing Agriculture after Yolanda (Part 3)


There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not? Robert Kennedy Rebuilding invariably should have strong institutional underpinning in order for these efforts to be cost-effective, inclusive and self-sustaining in the long run. Reforms must be built around institutions, not just in a few individuals however outstanding if the changes sought were to be long lasting and deep. We should have learned by now the lack of sustainability of special projects however well-meaning, whether local or foreign-assisted. The weakest link in the agriculture sector is extension, particularly the public part. The private seed companies, the input suppliers, many NGOs and media are carrying their share of the load. But the LGUs and national agencies, in particular, the Department of Agriculture (DA), could do better. The infirmity of public agriculture extension can be traced in part to the devolution of the rural extension function to the LGUs under R.A.7160 (An Act Providing for a Local Government Code of 1991) without downloading at the same time the corresponding resources from the national budget. This left the initiative for extension to the idiosyncracy of the incumbent local officials, particularly the town/city mayor or provincial governor. Worse the 4th, 5th and 6th class municipalities which are largely dependent on agriculture have very limited incomes. This was compounded by the short-sighted abolition of the Bureau of Agricultural Extension (BAEx) which deprived the agriculture sector of a national body to provide central direction, coherence, coordination and supervision for agricultural extension. The first order of business therefore is reforming the basic public extension infrastructure from the DA and its national agencies, to the regional field units (DA-RFUs) and thence to the provincial agriculture offices (PAOs), to the city and municipal agriculture offices (MAOs). Congress ought to reorganize the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), the successor agency to BAEx, to restore to ATI the mandate of providing central direction, coordination and monitoring to agricultural extension. However, this will take a while to accomplish. Devolution of agricultural extension to the LGUs was correct. The LGUs are the government arms closest to the farm communities and are in the best position to see what they need and want. But just like with agrarian reform, we failed to follow through with resources and systems to make devolution work. Turning back the clock by re-nationalizing extension will be counterproductive and politically divisive. Nevertheless, short of new legislation, the DA could still provide effective direction setting, coordination, monitoring and evaluation of agriculture extension through persuasion by the power of the purse. The key points of planning and coordination are the Regional Field Units to which most of the DA funds have been downloaded directly by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). The MAOs and their agricultural technicians are most often grossly underpaid (not so with the city agriculturists! …

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Building Better: Modernizing Agriculture after Yolanda (Part 3)
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