Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Winning! Agriculture=20% Tourism=5.8%

"The bus station in New York City offers a more comfortable waiting area than this,"  I told my sister, Charie, as we sat in the airport in Manila minutes before boarding the plane to Singapore to visit my niece.  She has become my best buddy in my efforts as a pundit, for lack of a better term, in matters about the Philippines.

We were all cramped in what looked like a 10' x 5' area facing the hallway to the boarding gate, on chairs made more for outdoors and not ergonomic enough for waiting rooms.  I was practically breathing down on someone's neck who was seating in front of me.  Forget about taking your book out because the lighting did not allow it.  It made me think about my old lamp beside my bed at home.

"I know, and how well we welcome those tourists we've been trying to attract," she replied.  I was thinking more about our OFW's who contribute 12% to the country's GDP.

"Remember the stink we all made about the traffic once?"  I asked.  "It remains a motley crew of jeepneys and buses in wacky races but at least authorities have been experimenting on solutions."  I was suggesting the power of yacking to get them to do something about the airport.

Well, that trip to Singapore happened during my summer vacation last year.  As we all know,  Ninoy Aquino International Airport is scheduled to have that much needed renovation.  Extreme, if you were to ask me.  Landing on the list of the world's worst airports rang loud enough.

Now, allow me to get to the point of this blog.  After seeing Pinoys in their creative pursuits busy churning out their own versions of  It's more fun in the Philippines ads (that cost the government five million pesos to think of when all they did was to change the last word of an old slogan from Switzerland to Philippines), another thought came to my mind.  You see, it has been on my wish list for a couple of years now to see our country really work on Agriculture.  Take note of the capital "A".

It all started when I met a lady who worked as a nanny to my sister's children during one of my visits. She looked very old and frail.  "Di po niyo ako kailangan i-po," she said.  "Bata pa po ako."

How right she was. Not yet thirty years old, she looked like she was seventy!  Of course I did not say that.

Being nosy, I soon found out why.  She had been working in a rice field with her family in Ilocos all her life.  Most of them had to stop working after getting sick.  Running out of money, she had to venture out into the capital, as most of them do, looking for work to feed her family.  It made me curious then to find out about what kind of help we give our farmers who actually work with their hands, on their knees, all day, in mud and crap, to produce food for all of us.  I found out, NOTHING!

Before I turn dramatic like I always do, allow me to continue in the context of national interest. According to an article in the Encyclopedia of Nations, the country's agricultural sector is made up of 4 sub-sectors: farming, fisheries, livestock, and forestry, which together employ 39.8 percent of the labor force and contribute 20 percent of GDP.  Tourism accounts only for 5.8% recently according to the National Statistical Coordination Board.

There are several underlying problems that affect Agriculture but the most immediate is what I noticed without even being there.  Seeing the aggressive campaign for tourism that our government has recently come up with worried me more. That same article above articulates it well for me.

One of the most pressing concerns of the agricultural sector is the rampant conversion of agricultural land into golf courses, residential subdivisions, and industrial parks or resorts. In 1993 the nation was losing irrigated rice lands at a rate of 2,300 hectares per year. Small land-holders find it more profitable to sell their land to developers in exchange for cash, especially since they lack capital for seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, and wages for hiring workers to plant and harvest the crops. 

You probably do not notice the long drawn effect of this on our people as a whole. My cousin, Gao Pronove, who like me, has vowed to point out things that need pointing out in our country, posted on facebook some very good observations.
SORRY HA!  What's wrong with our food?  They aren't healthy!  Is this why Pinoys are generally fat, under medication, and lethargic?  Where is the healthy stuff?  Think about it or just look at EDSA ads - corned beef, hotdogs, Spam, meat everywhere (drugged chickens, industrial pigs, and only tilapia in a country with a coast longer than the North American continent?).  Sorry ha but we don't have healthy food.

So there. Agriculture = 20% of GDP. Tourism = 5.8%.  I hope it would be enough to get the noise going for our farmers, fishermen, and those who really do the work to put food on our tables.

By the way, sorry to rain on your parade.

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