Agri growth key to lower poverty rate–Diokno

FINANCE Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno said a robust agriculture growth will be a key to reducing poverty incidence in the country.

Diokno expressed optimism that the agriculture sector, which he described in the past as a “laggard,” will be among the drivers of the country’s economic growth as he vowed that the government will work hard to achieve this.

The government expects the economy to grow 6.5 to 7.5 percent this year and 6.5 to 8 percent starting next year until 2028. 

The Philippine economy grew 8.3 percent in the first quarter of this year, with agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector posting 0.2-percent growth. 

Improving the agriculture industry also plays a crucial role in developing the agri-business sector that has an impact on manufacturing, he said. 

“If we achieve our objective of making the agricultural sector more vibrant, more organized, and more productive, [I think that will have a big] impact on poverty incidence in the Pilipinas,” Diokno said, partly in Filipino, in an interview over a public affairs program recently, noting that poverty incidence in the agriculture sector is also high. 

“With agriculture, mining, and then industry and services all growing, then we can actually lift a lot of people out of poverty,” he added.

The latest official data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed poverty incidence increased to 23.7 percent in the first semester of 2021 from 21.1 percent in the first semester of 2018. This translates to 26.14 million Filipinos who lived below the poverty threshold—estimated at P12,082 on the average, for a family of five per month—in the first semester of 2021.

President Marcos Jr., who has taken leadership of the Department of Agriculture, said in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) that the agricultural sector will be “[o]ne of the main drivers of our push for growth and employment.”

“Before the crisis, the Philippine economy was growing between 6 to 7 percent and, in fact, we were close to our original target of reducing poverty to around 14 percent in the country by the end of President Duterte’s term, but of course the virus—the pandemic—intervened,” Diokno said. 

“We were not able to do that, but we are back to where we want to be. Maybe by the end—that’s the promise of [President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr.]—by the end of his term, 2028, we will cut poverty incidence in this country to single digit—to 9 percent,” he added. 

Apart from agriculture, Diokno said another key driver of economic growth are foreign direct investments that would enable the introduction of new technology.  

He expects more foreign investments to come in following the passage of recent economic liberalization bills, including the amendments to the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, Foreign Investments Incentives Act, and the Public Service Act. 

“When all the foreign direct investments we are expecting finally come in, we will achieve our target of 6.5 to 8 percent [gross domestic product growth] towards the last five years of the Marcos administration,” Diokno said.