February 13, 2011
Roberto Amores, the President of Philippine Food Processors and Exporters Organization Inc. (PhilFoodex) and one of the biggest mango processor in the Philippines is sitting in on a discussion on the state of fruits and vegetables sector during the first national summit on agriculture and fisheries. He was sitting beside Karding Tolentino, a supplier of mangoes from the north. As it turns out, Tolentino and Amores have been doing business for 20 years, but it took them this long and this opportunity to finally meet face to face.
This is one of the aims of the agriculture and fisheries summit, an unusual and biggest gathering of various players in the agricultural and fisheries sector—from the farmers to the processors, traders, business decision makers, and the government agencies. Spearheaded by senate Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Food Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, Congressman Mark Mendoza who co-chairs with Pangilinan the Congressional Oversight Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization (COCAFM), and Department of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, together with former DTI undersecretary Ernesto Ordonez representing the private sector, the summit dubbed as Philippine Agriculture and Fisheries 2025 aims to craft a vision of where the country’s agriculture and fisheries sector ought to be in 25 years. The 2-day summit was held at the Eugenio Lopez Center in Antipolo.
“The vision and general direction for agricultural development should go beyond a sitting president’s six year term for us to achieve stability, continuity, and effectiveness,” says Ordonez, who now spearheads the Alyansa Agrikultura, a coalition of farmer-fisherfolk federations and organizations. “Thus the 25-year perspective for the agriculture and fisheries sector is worthy of support.”
The Department of Agrarian Reform’s Undersecretary Jerry Pacturan believes that the discussion on agriculture and fisheries is a discussion on rural development. “We should be thinking big now,” he says. “We need to shift the work from small livelihood programs and agriculture productivity to something that has scale.”
Amores says the mango sector is expecting a decline in production of mangoes for 2011 because of La Nina. “Demand for Philippine mango variety continues to increase, yet we are having difficulties meeting demands. Something has to be done to mitigate this,” he says. “The Philippine mango is unique in its texture, taste, and aroma. It is the best in the world.”
Sharon Tan, who is the president of the RFID Technology and Research Institute, says that the summit’s 15 year vision for agriculture and fisheries is the right way to go. “In Singapore, the blueprint they crafted for their education was for 15 years. The only goal then was for their students to become computer-literate. Now they have software competitions, incubation parks and get venture capitalists.” Tan hopes to see the same outcome from the summit.
The summit provides a forum for discussions on the state of rice production, fisheries, fruits and vegetables, commercial crops, and poultry and livestock, and craft solutions to address the issues hounding these agricultural subsectors. Some of the biggest suppliers and manufacturers discuss their views with magnates and representatives from government agencies in a “war” room. The discussion is then steered towards crafting a vision and policy recommendations to address the issues.
“Our goal here is to combine all efforts and develop what has been given to us so we may be able to feed the country in the years to come,” says Secretary Alcala. “We at DA are ready and willing to listen to our farmers and suppliers because we realize that we in government cannot do this alone. We need true private-public partnerships to fully realize food security for our countrymen.”
Pangilinan says that the summit is just the beginning of the hard work ahead. “The immediate goal here is to create an adhoc committee that will collate all the recommendations given in this 2-day summit and ensure that there will be follow-through. The next step is to take this summit to various regions in the country because we understand that each region has their own unique needs.”
“We should be willing to employ new methods of approaching the issues. We cannot use the same worn-out, outmoded formulas and expect to see real change in agriculture and fisheries,” Pangilinan says. “We need to re-imagine what needs to be done. We must be willing to move away from our comfort zones. We need to learn to experiment more, to take more risks and employ new techniques and new methods if we wish to see change happen.”
“This is the time for us to discuss and seek solutions to our decades-old problems facing Philippine agriculture and fisheries. This is the time when we have to synergize what we have to attain the status of a developed nation,” Pangilinan adds.