AGRICULTURE and fisheries planning needs to be more “bottom-up” to better meet the needs of farmers and fisherfolk, steering away from “top-down” programs imposed from above, especially those concerning rice, according to a study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS).

According to the report, in order to pursue modernization, the government must abandon elements of traditional industrial policy.

Another recommendation is to terminate expenditure programs based on distortionary subsidies to give way to funding a modern industrial policy for the agri-food system.

“There is also a need to apply area-based, bottom-up planning in determining strategic interventions to meet the needs of farmers and rural enterprises along the value chain,” the report’s author and PIDS Senior Research Fellow Roehlano M. Briones said.

“We must shift from a top-down and banner program-centric type of planning especially focused on rice as customary in many (Department of Agriculture) strategies and move to bottom-up planning and area-based approach as originally envisioned in the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA),” he said.

“In terms of the share of the agri-fisheries sector in the country’s gross domestic product, it declined to 9% in 2019 from 19% in 1990 then rose slightly to 10% in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic happened. The agriculture employment share shed 22 percentage points from 1991 to 2019,” the study found.

The study sought to track the effects or impacts of the AFMA since its passage in 1997.

The AFMA provides guidelines for the sustainable and equitable development of the agriculture and fisheries sector.

According to the study, growth in crops, the biggest subsector, started strong in the 2000s but slowed down over the past two decades, hindering the overall growth of agriculture.

The fisheries and livestock subsectors also suffered in the last decade. The poultry subsector, on the other hand, has been a consistent growth performer since the late 1990s.

Mr. Briones said that the interventions to further the modernization of agriculture since AFMA’s passage have fallen short.

“One is introducing an area-based approach to agricultural development planning based on delineated zones. However, the failure to properly delineate the strategic agriculture and fisheries development zones hindered the pursuit of this approach,” he said.

“The AFMA reinforced an ongoing market-oriented reform in the agricultural credit system. Although this resulted in a gradual shift in the source of small farmer loans from informal to formal lenders, smallholder agriculture financing remains inadequate,” he added.

Mr. Briones said many smallholder farmers are also unlikely to borrow from the formal sector because of documentary requirements as well as the lenders’ unwillingness to absorb risk and their perception of the high risk of agriculture. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson