The European business community is looking to work closely with the incoming Duterte Administration to address gaps and roadblocks in the country's agriculture sector, Henry Schumacher, vice president of the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP), said on Tuesday.

Schumacher said that the government and private sector should work together to immediately address issues such as irrigation, disaster recovery, and infrastructure develop to arrest the decline in agricultural output and the threat to food security, which could eventually lead to food shortages in the country.

Schumacher pointed out that the agriculture sector is a key determinant of whether economic growth is inclusive, as it measures wealth and productivity in the countryside, establishes the country's capacity for food production, and provides jobs and livelihoods primarily to lower income groups.

"For an import-dependent country [like the Philippines], food security is highly vulnerable to market shocks. Weak policies, incomplete land reform, and trade agreements hamper investing in the sector," Schumacher said.

"Having the government and the private sector work together is essential to respond effectively to these opportunities and challenges in the agriculture sector. There have to be measures placed to insulate the agricultural sector from possible market shocks resulting from the Asean integration," he added.

Food shortages feared

At present, the agriculture sector account for 8 percent share of the total Philippine exports, and provides employment to 36 percent of the labor force, mostly in the lower income groups.

Schumacher said the ECCP is eyeing major improvements in the sector to alleviate poverty and address a projected food shortage due to the drastic decline of workers willing to work in the agriculture sector.

At present conditions, the chamber foresees that the Philippines will likely experience food shortage in 15 years given that the population is growing by about 2 percent yearly.

He stressed that poverty in the rural areas and farms pushes young people to leave the countryside and work in the congested Manila, further hurting farm productivity.

"We need to be able to assist and incentivize our farmers. We need to educate them and give them access to financing, land titles, and to formulate government policies that would level the playing field for small-scale farmers and fishermen to be more competitive," Schumacher said, adding that there is a need to provide better work opportunities in the countryside to encourage workers to settle in rural areas instead of moving to the cities.

Citing data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the ECCP said the agriculture sector saw a nearly 5 percent decline in its production in the first quarter of 2016 - mostly due to sluggish performance of the crops and fisheries segments and because of the extended dry spell from the El NiAo phenomenon since 2015.

Irrigation, infra concerns

"There is a lot to do in terms of irrigation. Our response to damages on facilities during flooding and typhoons also needs improvement. Under productivity is a result of many things. The country's infrastructure along with deteriorating farming facilities and equipment play a part in harvest losses. We need to address those immediately," Schumacher said.

The ECCP vice president said the country could adopt innovative technologies and a more efficient supply chain, which can improve productivity and economies of scale.

"Watersheds need to be regulated. We need to be prepared and have solutions for the volatile climate change otherwise our economic activities will be greatly affected. We have typhoons and dry spells that hinder productivity," he added.

Source: Manila Time