By Adrian H. Halili and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporters

THE recently appointed Secretary of Agriculture’s industry background indicates that he will be mainly concerned with production growth, but analysts warned that he also needs to keep an eye on farming sustainability.

“(His) commercial fishing background grounds him in the private sector which is helpful. Hopefully he can strike balance between growth and sustainability for agriculture and fisheries,” Roehlano M. Briones, a senior research fellow with the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, said in a Viber message.

On Friday, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. appointed former Frabelle Fishing Corp. President Francisco Tiu Laurel, Jr. as the new Secretary of Agriculture.

He had been the president of his family’s fishing company since 1985.

“It’s a good move that (Mr. Marcos) finally appointed a full-time agriculture secretary…I don’t believe his background in commercial fishing will be a handicap in performing his duties,” Calixto V. Chikiamco, Foundation for Economic Freedom president, said in a Viber message.

“His group of companies is also into food processing. Besides, he can draw on experts in agriculture to guide him. As a former business executive, he will be focused on execution and performance,” Mr. Chikiamco added.

Mr. Laurel is expected to prioritize “corporate” and “capital intensive” farming, Bienvenido Oplas, Jr., president of Minimal Government Thinkers, said in a Viber message.

“We need more output, more harvest per hectare of agricultural land and aquaculture,” he said. “Small-scale farming may still be allowed in non-contiguous land separated by hills, residential areas, uplands.”

With regard to food import policy, Geny F. Lapina, an agricultural economist at the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of the Philippines Los Baños, said: “Let us see if this will mean a more liberalized policy that makes use of trade to help boost the overall food supply or a more protectionist stance that favors local production but not necessarily lower prices of food.”

Mr. Lapina said in an e-mail that most other countries “seem to be moving toward nationalist and protectionist policies.”

“However, the trade-off is that it will be hard to get lower prices of food in the short term if a more protectionist position is taken,” he said. “Not unless the government subsidizes a lot which our finance and economic managers will try to temper given our government’s fiscal stance right now.”

Roy S. Kempis, director of the Center for Business Innovation, said the appointment of a full-time Agriculture Secretary was “administratively and strategically” long overdue.

He noted “the enormity of problems within the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the challenges to Philippine agriculture from factors that are in nature, both domestic and international.”

In July 2022, Mr. Marcos assumed the role of Agriculture Secretary, citing the need to boost food security and keep prices under control.

Mr. Marcos ordered price controls on rice on Sept. 5 which capped regular-milled rice at P41 per kilogram and well-milled rice at P45. The controls were lifted on Oct. 5.

“To tame agriculture and food prices, more production and supply are necessary. The government can enter into marketing agreements with farmers and farm entrepreneurs, ensuring a market for their produce at decent farmgate prices,” Mr. Kempis said.

Ateneo de Manila economics professor Leonardo A. Lanzona said that although Mr. Laurel has experience in distribution due to his background in commercial fishing, it may not be enough to stem the industry’s problems.

“We badly need someone who can produce output by exploiting scale economies to the extent allowed by technology,” he added.

Mr. Lanzona said that someone with a solid background in civil society organizations would be better suited for the post.

“We would prefer someone… who can work out contracts between small landholders and conglomerates without abusing the rights of the small farmers,” he added.

Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food, Inc. President Danilo V. Fausto added in a Viber message: “While rice is a primordial concern, producing food that comprise a balance diet and proper nutrition at affordable prices should be the primary concern of an agriculture secretary.”

Mr. Laurel said in a speech at his appointment that one of his main goals was to ensure adequate harvests to ensure affordable food.

Mr. Laurel previously held roles at Markham Resources Corp., Bacoor Seafront Development Corp., and Diamond Export Corp. as president.

He was also the chairman of Westpac Meat Processing Corp., Bukidnon Hydro Energy Corp., and Diamond Export Corp.

His corporate background led the Palace to issue a statement that Mr. Laurel had resigned from all his private-sector positions.

“By appointing a businessman, in this case a fishing tycoon, business interests will be prioritized over fisherfolk and farmers who have long been neglected,” Maria Ela Atienza, who teaches political science at the University of the Philippines, said in a Viber message.

“The spoils system, patronage politics and big business have triumphed once again in this latest appointment at the expense of the people.”