21 July 1998
Philippine leader makes agriculture priority

JOSEPH ESTRADA, the president of the Philippines, plans to use the countrys rural areas as a litmus test for his campaign to reduce poverty.

Farm-to-market roads and irrigation are especially needed, according to Moner Dumana, head of the Board of Investments in Cotabato City, the provincial capital.

Agriculture, affected by El Niño, is forecast to shrink by about 2.5% this year compared with 2.8% growth last year. The sector accounts for more than 40% of jobs and 20% of gross national product. Half of the countrys 70 million population live in rural areas.

Meanwhile, the 10-year-old land reform programme has been stymied by landowner resistance, bureaucracy and insufficient funding, reports the Financial Times. Only 4.3m ha (10.63m acres) out of 10.3m ha (25.5m acres) earmarked for redistribution has been transferred. Lack of progress has contributed to a reduction in the collateral value of land and a decline in rural investment. Limited access to rural credit is also a problem.

However, William Dar, the new agriculture secretary, has promised to give priority to irrigation, rural infrastructure, research and development and access to credit.

He did not comment on issues such as how the Philippines will meet its international commitments on tariff reduction. He said the Government should get the capital to revive the farm sector from increased use of what is known as the build-operate-transfer programme.

  • Financial Times 21/07/98 page 4