From being a long-neglected sector, the Philippine agriculture industry is now up for a major overhaul to become one of the keys to economic development.
None other than President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., who took on the role of heading the agriculture sector, himself believed that with sound measures to develop the industry’s portfolio, the Philippines can achieve significant upgrades in our local farmers’ quality of life, and consequently, will help boost local food production for the Filipinos.
Close collaboration with the business community will be vital in the fulfilment of the president’s ambitious goals for the agriculture industry.
One conglomerate, in particular, is stepping up to provide much-needed support — the Metro Pacific Investments Corp. led by chair Manny V. Pangilinan or MVP.
In the second part of his interview with context.ph, MVP initially cited the issues that the local agriculture sector faces and what the group is doing to help.
“There is increasing importation of food items into the country. Our ability to grow what we need to feed our people is not there. I think it’s time to address the issues surrounding that and I am glad the President is paying a lot of attention to agri. Agri and aqua go hand in hand. It’s something I feel our group should help in whatever way we can to ameliorate the food situation,” MVP said.
The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the many issues in the holistic food management system, as MVP recalled the initial problems the country had to deal with such as supply chains and imports clogging up because of the limited mobility to contain the virus outbreak.
Thankfully though, there is an array of solutions meant to unravel the many potentials of the sector. In a recent study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, it was highlighted that a technology-enabled systems-based approach will enable us to move forward toward our goal of food security.
MVP echoed the need for this strategy anchored on both infra and technology. The supply chain related to food items, he said, should be part of the overall agriculture plan.
“The factor inputs that get into production of food in this country — whether fresh food, canned food or cooked food — we need to have a digital map of where they are procured and where they are eventually sold. Several food items produced locally are seasonal in nature, so their storage is very important, and the logistics and costs of those logistics are also very important.”
Reports have surfaced regarding the new agribusiness portfolio that MPIC had been acquiring — including ventures in the dairy and coconut industries. According to MVP, the group is learning as they go, as these are new businesses to them.
“The main challenge on the agri side is the ability to get into commercial farming where you need significant amounts of land and you have to develop the science and management of large commercial farms.”
Leasing land, like what neighboring countries Indonesia and Malaysia are doing, is the viable approach, he said.
“We have to put the money to where the production inputs are to produce the food. For staple items, you do need large-scale farming to reduce the costs and make it available hopefully on a year-round basis.”
In MVP’s mind, a new model should be adopted when it comes to the issue of agrarian reform, one that focuses on deploying technology and making agriculture profitable for businesses.
“Let’s look at the new model in this current age, especially our ability to deploy technology both on the growing side of the business and on the logistics side of the business.”
MPIC is aiming to set an example and make agriculture a profitable venture for the business community to follow suit. As he said, “I hope we can be a cowbell investor that we have to prove that this makes sense and this makes profits. If they see that we’re losing a lot of money then why should businesses get into it?”
He recalled a similar situation years ago when he decided to acquire and build the MPIC’s hospital portfolio with Makati Medical Center, and the more recent acquisition of the dairy firm Carmen’s Best.
As a matter of fact, MVP addressed issues that these businesses were bought to serve as “deodorizers” for MPIC.
“I can assure you that is not the intention, we are serious about this. We are not investing to look good to anybody. So we have to show performance, to our shareholders, to our board, that this makes sense and that eventually, we can scale up to make it a contributor not only to Metro Pacific but to the larger economy,” MVP said.
Most importantly, he said, the investments made in Philippine agriculture are anchored on a fundamental premise. “It is a need of our people. We have to feed our people first, rather than importing what we want to import.”
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Presidential Communications Office.