BY KARL G. OMBION
Vol. VIII, No. 8, March 30-April 5, 2008
Amid recent reports of another impending rice crisis, a local university-based agricultural economist said he is not surprised by the reports because “there has been a prolonged and continuous decline in Philippine agricultural productivity since the early 1970s.”
Dr. Romeo Teruel, research director of the University of St. La Salle, said that rampant poverty and hunger in a number of regions in the country, especially in Western Visayas, can be attributed to the decreasing agricultural activity and declining agricultural productivity.
“Instability of rice supply, as in other vital food crops, can be explained easily by the stagnating agricultural production in the country; and on the other hand, its growing dependence on importation,” said Teruel, citing recent international research studies he was involved in.
Teruel said this trend is quite ironic, especially in view of the fact that in terms of promoting nationwide economic development, agriculture is supposedly an important sector to deal with, as it is the predominant source of income and employment in the country.
“Agricultural sector accounts for approximately 20 percent of the gross domestic product and about 14 percent of the country’s export earnings. It also employs almost half of the labor force of the country, thus the dependence of the majority of the rural poor on the agricultural sector as the major source of livelihood remains high,” he said.
But since 1974, Teruel stressed, agricultural production continued to stagnate, growing with an average of 1 percent a year. He added that while the trend growth rate was 1.4 percent from 1990 to 1995, it declined to 0.6 percent from years 1996 to 2000.
He also said that the past and present agricultural situation seems to suggest that the Philippine agricultural sector is lagging behind other agricultural economies in terms of comparative competitiveness.
“The Philippines has been transformed into a net agricultural importing country during the last decade. From being a net exporter in the 1970s and 1980s, the Philippines registered an agricultural trade deficit from $0.257 billion in 1991-1994 to $3.347 billion in 1995 to 1998. The Philippines was also transformed into from a net food exporting country to a net food importer as of 1995, with an average net food trade deficit of $0.222 billion,” he said.
In his recent study entitled “Regional Productivity and Convergence: The Case of Philippine Agriculture,” Teruel revealed there is a growing disparity among the country’s 15 regions in terms of productivity.
He said that Luzon regions, particularly central Luzon, are found more productive than regions in the Visayas and Mindanao.
He also noted that in the Visayas and Mindanao, Western Visayas and Bicol posted the lowest agricultural productivity and decreasing agricultural activities, citing as major factors the lack of roads, poor rural electrification, lack of irrigation, less high-yielding variety crops, less government support for research and technology development, technology development and extension work.
Teruel added that there is no trend of convergence or diminution of economic inequality among the regions, but instead a growing dispersion, leaving backward and poorer regions further behind.
“Unless the current trend in Philippine agriculture is reversed, the already prolonged and continuous decline in our agriculture will only worsen the food insecurity in the country,” he concluded.
Teruel’s studies draw affirmation from the organizations of marginalized sectors in the province, as they warned of possible food riot and anarchy in urban and rural areas should the government fails to avert the reported rice shortage and skyrocketing of the prices of basic commodities and public services.
In an interview, Merlyn Prajes, vice chairperson of the urban poor alliance Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay), said, “It is not impossible for the present rice shortage to develop into a full blown crisis because of the high prices of rice and other basic commodities on one hand, and on the other hand, the continued slump of agricultural production.”