INNOVATIVE solutions, backed with equitable digitalization, would be harnessed to “retrofit” agricultural production in Mindanao as part of an overall Covid-19 recovery program, according to a work plan being refined by the government’s socioeconomic planning unit for the entire island.
The move to boost farm productivity came to full realization after the pandemic clearly showed the basic essence of agricultural self-sufficiency.
While other economic anchors faltered amid the abrupt halt to economic activities starting March 2020, the agriculture sector, notwithstanding disruptions like lockdowns and checkpoints, even posted a modest positive growth.
The old practices in agriculture, though, were seen as the pull factor that kept the sector from attaining its fullest potential at a time it was needed most.
Because of this, the two directions on innovation and digitalization have been outlined in a draft 10-point economic recovery agenda of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA), which Emmanuel F. Piñol used to head, before he decided to run for a Senate seat in the May 2022 elections.
Piñol, also a former secretary of agriculture, has pitched for a sound local food production and better food-chain facility system among the important things to build upon. It is among the takeaways from the economic onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I believe that we have to look at the lessons learned from Covid-19 and embrace these as guiding policies as we move forward. We have to build a local food production industry that would keep us safe from any disruption in the supply chain. We have to produce our own food to the maximum, and I believe we can,” Piñol said in a recent interview on the pre-election campaign trail.
MinDA may be on track with Piñol’s observations.
JOHN Maynard, of the Investment Promotions Division of MinDA, said “a pressing concern for the agriculture sector is measurement and accuracy of agriculture data.”
Digitalization, for one, he said, may address precise compliance in standardization of farm inputs such as fertilizers. “Precision equates to efficiency, and eventually productivity. Process innovation and technology as well are practical means by which we can innovate agricultural science-based farm practices. So primarily data precision innovations are fundamental to cost efficiency in deployment of farm resources.”
Maynard said the stakeholders and private-sector companies are seen as innovation-drivers in this endeavor.
He pointed to their research data as showing these innovation drivers “lean more toward supporting innovation enablers in their firms, collaborating with their clients and suppliers”.
“It is of usual business sense that these firms approach costs in innovation as investments and strategy to sustainability, whole of stakeholders,” he added.
“We are seeing a stronger and more synergistic collaboration between farmer/industry, academe and government actors to build an ecosystem of innovation. Research studies are made more purposive and practical to address real-life agriculture problems. MinDA helps ensure this by filling in gaps and pain points among agriculture stakeholders at the macro level, avoiding duplication of roles among these problems and taking on catalyzing roles to funnel resources to the right priorities,” he said.
Ernesto Tomas, head of Knowledge Management Division of MinDA, who also leads MinDA’s ICT and innovation projects, cited Piñol’s advocacy on the use of solar-powered irrigation system in agricultural production as well as the use of ramp pumps and “fertigation” in upland rice farming as approaches to improve productivity and efficiency.
“Innovation is seen as a means to provide solutions in addressing the pain points of the agriculture sector using available technologies,” Tomas said. He said digitalization and innovation make use of data and data analysis to monitor and evaluate crops appropriate for soil types as well as make use of data in tracking production supply and match them with market demands.
He said digital technologies and platforms are efficient systems to do this. The first step, he said, “is to identify the issue or the problem in the sector and then match this with the appropriate technology that will address the industry pain points and using these technologies to create products and solutions which can be used by farmers and fisherfolk.”
“Access to digital technology can offer farmers the links to suppliers and information, access support services such as training, finance and legal services, reach markets and customers and enable monitoring of goods and build strategic industry partnerships,” Tomas added.
Digital world eases pain of lockdowns
MinDA executive director Janet Lopoz talked about the development of technology and advances in science to be “more responsive to the needs of Mindanao’s food sector and help it better withstand the effects of lockdowns and disruptions in the supply chain.”
“We saw how mobility restrictions and lockdowns have driven companies to shift their businesses and services online. The use of digital technology and e-commerce has become the new business norm,” Lopoz said in her talk during the Annual Scientific Conference of the National Research Council of the Philippines Mindanao Regional Cluster on October 27, 2021.
She said food and non-alcoholic beverages, along with ICT and logistics, were the only subsectors that posted positive growth, no matter how slow. “This tells us a lot about the new sectors that we need to be paying more attention to, those that have kept our economy afloat despite the lockdowns and mobility restrictions,” Lopoz said.
The 10-point economic agenda identifies the need for better Internet connectivity and virtual transaction literacy among Mindanao’s agriculture and food stakeholders, she said. The use of digital payments has skyrocketed in many parts of the region, she noted.
Innovations in logistics were also instrumental in establishing alternative food supply networks, Lopoz pointed out. Logistics companies such as Ninja Van began innovating their delivery process to expand across new services that would navigate through the constraints of the current operating conditions.
She said the data it gathered were among the findings of its several rapid impact assessment studies with different international development partners, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
These studies were the “rapid assessments of the impact of Covid-19 on food supply chains in the Philippines” and the “Covid-19 Mindanao and Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Rapid Social Economic Impact Assessment Study” with UNDP and Social Enterprises Research and Development (SERDEF).
Results of the studies were among the bases for identifying the immediate to long-term agenda for economic recovery, which includes fast-tracking of vaccination rollout, ensuring sufficient supply of locally produced goods, green financing, micro small and medium enterprises development, and strengthening BIMP-EAGA cooperation for market access, MinDA said.
Another program that MinDA mounted was the Mindanao Peace and Development (MinPAD) RISE program “to support the establishment of various agri-fisheries facilities in several areas of the island region, including production and logistics mechanisms aimed at assisting Mindanao’s economic recovery amid the Covid-19 pandemic”.
The MinPAD RISE program was launched on November 4 with the European Union through the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit German Cooperation and the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
“It is important that as stakeholders and partners in Mindanao’s development, we are informed on all the various efforts that we are all putting together to contribute towards making our Mindanao a more integrated, more inclusive, resilient, sustainable and peaceful Mindanao,” Lopoz said.
The program utilizes €55 million (P3.29 billion) for a five-year economic development targeting the whole of Mindanao, including the Bangsamoro region. “The project identified and the design for the program pertains to addressing inequality and vulnerability of several segments of society by reducing poverty, boosting productivity and immediately revving up the economy for economic recovery,” Lopoz said.
“We hope that we can better think about how we can complement our initiative. And let’s see how best we can put together our efforts, complement and strengthen our partnerships,” Lopoz stressed.
Ambassador of the European Union to the Philippines Luc Veron said, “This project comes at difficult times with the pandemic and its negative impact on the economy and the well-being of the communities.”
Images courtesy of Ekkasit919 | Dreamstime.com and Alexey Kornylyev | Dreamstime.com