MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Leni Robredo on Friday urged Southeast Asian businessmen to create inclusive environments by partnering with industries that have direct impact on the poor, such as agriculture.
“Allow me to tackle creating inclusive business environments first. The usual conditions need to be present: transparent and accountable governments, progressive taxation, level playing fields, and open markets,” she said during the 2017 Asean Prosperity for All Summit held at the City of Dreams in Manila.
“But we need to focus on certain industries that have direct impact on the poor, and one of these is agriculture,” Robredo added.
Speaking before business leaders and policy makers from 10 Asean member states, the Vice President, who had spent her career lawyering for the poor, cited a number of problems that had hindered farmers from achieving prosperity such as lack of land and access to capital and market and poor labor conditions.
Robredo also observed how middlemen were raking in profits from agricultural supplies produced by farmers, who in turn hardly get anything for their hard work.
Also, according to the Vice President, the bulk of government aid just reaches farmers belonging to organized groups and “as a result, assistance was given to farmers who were not the poorest.”
In addressing these problems, Robredo said the government, the private sector, and development agencies could create partnerships with farmers and other small entrepreneurs to promote inclusive growth.
Robredo cited a partnership between her office and the Department of Social Welfare and Development wherein farmers supply needs for the DSWD’s feeding program for schoolchildren.
“We are happy to note that a year after the program was implemented, the farmers’ incomes have already grown by leaps and bounds,” she said.
Another initiative that the Vice President cited was the financial and technical assistance that Jollibee had extended to onion farmers. Instead of importing, the fast food giant decided to source its onion supplies from the peasants it had helped.
From these initiatives, Robredo underscored the importance of innovation and financing in turning farmers into wealthy entrepreneurs.
She stressed that these kinds of partnerships would not only reap profits, but would also solve the supply chain problems of big businesses.
“Partnerships like these should be profitable if they are to be sustainable — and they are,” she said.
Moreover, Robredo said progress won’t be achieved until it reaches the farthest and poorest barangays.
“Let us all remember that the final scorecard is what happens to the last, the least, and the lost.”
“Prosperity for all and inclusive growth will heal our conflicted world,” she concluded.
Meanwhile, former Agriculture Secteray William Dar, current president of the Inang Lupa movement, said that, “We really have now to put up the policy environment necessary for agriculture to draw the path of inclusive market-oriented development.”
Dar acknowledged during the Asean forum that the Philippine government had already embraced an agri-industrialization development study aimed at creating a rural-based manufacturing industry where added value is incorporated into farmers’ products.
This, he said, would turn the five million Filipino farmers into “agri-preneurs.”
Dar said Philippine agriculture must be modernized and industrialized so the country could increase its commodity exports, aside from bananas and coconut oil.
For his part, Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez said farmers needed to think like entrepreneurs as value-added produce could help improve their income.
Meanwhile, former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said passing a law that would allow agricultural landholdings to become bank collaterals would help farmers access funding and become entrepreneurs.