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PH agriculture, manufacturing and science and technology examined at high-level panel discussion in Washington

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Secretary Virgilio De los Reyes of the Philippine Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and a panel of senior Philippine officials recently discussed the "opportunities and challenges" in Philippine agriculture, manufacturing, and science and technology, highlighting the country’s economic growth, the inclusiveness of progress, the sustainability of reforms, and the quality of the Filipino workforce. The panel discussion was held at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. on 17 March 2016. 

 

Secretary De los Reyes was joined by Department of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary Segfredo R. Serrano, Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Undersecretary Amelia P. Guevara, and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Undersecretary Ceferino S. Rodolfo, Jr. They also discussed initiatives aimed at building capacities and improving Philippine competitiveness in key sectors.  

Secretary De los Reyes asserted that agrarian reform has made lives better for Filipinos. Mandated under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Act of 1988 (CARP), DAR has assured ownership of land and access to technical support and legal services. The Secretary explained that "based on our statistics, most of the land under the scope of DAR has been distributed to small landowners." The Secretary stated that DAR is in the process of digitizing a landholding database and developing a technology-enabled framework to expedite resolution of land disputes.  

The agriculture sector employs over 30 percent of the Philippine workforce yet contributes less than 15 percent to GDP.  Citing the report he presented at the Annual World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty, Secretary De los Reyes emphasized the need to improve profits of small farmers. Lack of access to affordable credit has limited farmers' resources. The Secretary described the government's role as an “enabler” who provides assistance to more adaptable and business-minded farmers, and improves collective capacities of farmers' cooperatives. 

Undersecretary Serrano said that under the Aquino Administration, seed and farm subsidies were eliminated, with funds diverted to infrastructure - building farm to market roads and irrigation facilities that can withstand extreme climate events. To prepare for projected temperature and sea-level rise, Undersecretary Serrano stressed the need to align development policies and research with scenarios 5-7 years onward. The effects of slow onset of climate change can be devastating to agricultural productivity in the long term. 

For her part, Undersecretary Guevara reiterated that "Innovation is the engine of any modern economy; and one look around the Philippines tells us that we have the natural inventiveness to be one of the leaders in this regard."  She challenged Filipinos to chart their own course and become self-reliant. The Philippines has come a long way towards becoming "technology self-reliant." Initially relying on foreign technology adapted to local needs, the country is set to launch the first Filipino-made micro satellite called Diwata-1. 

She also presented several DOST innovations serving farmers and fishermen. One of these innovations is the Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards (NOAH) that was conceptualized in collaboration with weather agencies and the University of the Philippines, as an early warning tool for flooding and typhoon preparedness. The Disaster Risk and Exposure Assessment Mitigation (DREAM) program completed mapping 18 of the country's major river systems by flying LiDAR scanners mounted on small aircraft over the various bodies of water. She also noted that the future of innovative solutions rests on effective collaborative efforts by agencies, universities, innovation centers, and returning Filipino scientists under DOST's Balik Scientists Program. 

Food processing, a key component of the manufacturing industry, is a major growth sector as demand for packaged food is fueled by rising income and urbanization.  By linking manufacturing to agricultural products such as cacao, coffee, rubber, and coconut-based products, processed food has moved up the value chain, explained DTI Undersecretary Rodolfo. Regional development councils play a key role as a coordinating mechanism for various government agencies - Agriculture, Manufacturing, Science and Technology, and Trade - in the development of products from raw supply to packaging. Undersecretary Rodolfo estimates that 2,000 new food products are introduced annually. 

Economic reforms likewise continue to boost the investment climate and economic growth. Undersecretary Rodolfo emphasized the importance of bilateral trade agreements and regional economic agreements. According to Undersecretary Rodolfo, in 2015, 23 percent of exports represent trade to Japan, ASEAN countries account for 15 percent, the United States 14 percent, China 13 percent, the European Union 11 percent, South Korea 4 percent, Australia and New Zealand about 1.2 percent and India 1 percent. The Philippines conducted technical consultations with the Trans Pacific Partnership countries, exploring trade agreements with Canada, Chile and Mexico. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows to the country improved from $1 billion in 2010 to $6 billion in 2014. In the near term, it seeks to attract more foreign capital to finance infrastructure projects. 

“I trust that the high level panel has provided the Washington community a clear and comprehensive idea of the state of Philippine agriculture, trade policy and science and technology as we come to the close of the Aquino Administration. The presentations also very clearly provide a basis to hope that Philippine economic growth will continue, reforms will be sustainable, and that our development objectives will be achieved in the next few years,” Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. said in a statement. 

In his closing remarks, US-Philippines Society President Ambassador John F. Maisto thanked the panel saying, "Their admirable dedication to public service, professionalism, and competence has contributed to a stronger and more dynamic US-Philippines relationship."   

The event was co-organized by the Philippine Embassy and the US-Philippines Society. – Philippine Embassy, Washington D.C.

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