The co-chairman of the House of Representatives economic stimulus group said Monday that stable jobs and low prices should be the Duterte administration’s “last-round priority.”
Even if the economy returns to pre-pandemic levels, Albay Representative Joey Sarte Salceda said unstable incomes and high prices could still lead to high poverty this year.
“While March employment numbers showed an increase of about 2 million new jobs, most of those jobs are still rather weak and impermanent,” the Albay lawmaker said.
“The formula for poverty reduction is simple: stable jobs plus low prices equal low poverty. The mark of a real and genuine economic recovery is if we can reduce poverty levels to pre-pandemic rates and regain momentum to further reduce poverty,” the economist-legislator said.
The House leader said the government needs to pay particular attention to agriculture, where most jobs are “part-time”.
“3.7 million of the 7.2 million workers in the agricultural sector are part-time. So they’re probably not earning enough,” Salceda said, citing March numbers.
“I would urge President Duterte and his team to focus on agricultural jobs and farmer incomes, as well as stable and cheap food production, in the final round of his term. This is the area where we will get the most socio-economic returns,” Salceda added.
Meanwhile, Salceda has proposed a three-pronged approach to creating stable jobs in the agricultural sector while reducing food prices for the average consumer.
“First, we need to make sure our defensive strategies are solid. We must defend against existing threats, such as African swine fever and avian influenza, accelerate the introduction of hybrid rice seeds, especially in typhoon areas, and accelerate the deployment of training and other programs on biosecurity, the fight against natural and artificial pests, and greater climate resilience. Agriculture. We also need to take steps to ensure that irrigation will be adequate during this year’s dry season,” he said.
“Second, we need more value in labor-intensive crops. This will create new jobs and new sources of income. It is coffee, cocoa, abaca and old varieties of rice and other cereals. These crops pay the farmer very well, if harvested well, and they tend to require more labor. My problem with the mechanization of rice, maize and other crops is that even though we have been able to increase yield, on the ground we see signs of labor displacement, especially seasonal workforce,” added Salceda.
Third, Salceda said the government should promote agribusiness so farmers can take care of the business side of things when they are done with crops.
“That means food preservation facilities and training, packaging and other value-added processes,” he said.
According to Salceda, the country’s agri-infrastructure program may require a “change of mindset” from farm-to-market to “farm-to-process”.
“Let’s face it. Something is missing from our farm-to-market inclination in agri-infra. The crucial missing link is processing, especially for food surpluses. That means building new food processing facilities and of cold storage and the roads leading to these facilities. It will also involve the construction of new food terminals. It will even involve cyber-infrastructure that would allow farmers to sell and trade their products online, “said Salceda.
“We have already taken steps towards this end, as the Agri-Agra credit amendments are about to be enacted. I am particularly hopeful that he will increase value-added private lending in agriculture. But the public sector also needs to increase its spending on agricultural value addition,” the lawmaker said.
He said what President Duterte’s team can do towards this paradigm is to ensure that Agri-Agra credit reform is enacted during his tenure.
The Agri-Agra Credit Reform Bill requires banks to allocate 25% of their loanable funds to the agricultural sector.
“[Agriculture] secretary [Willian] Dar is able to generate a comprehensive report on agricultural value chain issues, and the DA [Department of Agriculture] and the DPWH [Department of Public Works and Highways] are able to figure out how to link farms to processing facilities, for the next administration reference,” Salceda said.
“I hope to play a key role in this by talking with the DA and DPWH about this. Farm to processing is the future of Philippine agriculture. It is what will create quality jobs and generate cheap food for our people,” he added.