There is a popular adage by John Adams that says, “every problem is an opportunity in disguise.”
Two things considered to be pressing matters at this time in our country come to mind: inflation and the lack of supply of rice.
On inflation, there are two differing explanations why the country is experiencing the highest rate in the last decade. One side attributes it to the demand for oil worldwide, given the growth of the US economy. The other points out to the Train law recently passed by the government.
During a conversation over lunch, Dr. Tereso Tullao Jr., one of the country’s top economists and former dean of the College of Economics of De La Salle University Manila, explained that only 0.4 percent of the 5.7 percent (inflation rate as of July 2018) is attributable to the TRAIN Law. Around 80 percent is due to the peso depreciation due to demand for importations for the Build, Build, Build program of the government, and the continuous rise of the world oil prices.
In addition, the government pushes self-sufficiency in dealing with the rice shortage to produce more even if the world knows that we do not have the infrastructure, nor the land, nor the farmers to sustainably do so.
Hence in this regard, Dr. Tullao suggests it is practical and less expensive to import from our neighbors such as Thailand and Vietnam because these two countries already have economies of scale. Fortunately for them, they have planned ahead and built the needed infrastructure.
This tells us that our government did not decide to develop our agriculture industry even back then and most certainly it is going to be difficult to catch up now given where we stand in this area compared to our other neighbors.
What this tells us too though is that the government has chosen to develop the country in other ways – to transform the Philippines into a services-oriented country due to our labor costs which attract a lot of companies to invest and outsource.
In the same breath, property development such as malls has seen tremendous growth which also helped create jobs.
Will this approach be sustainable in the long run? For the shortage of rice and the soaring costs of food we are facing at the moment, it is wise to take a step back and assess how the citizenry can help or contribute.
Technology-wise, it would be a good opportunity to start developing the agritech industry where one can employ technology to develop agriculture with the little land that we have. Employing aquaponics and hydroponics design techniques will be helpful as a strategy to curb this problem.
Start up companies such as Rob’s Green Project provide such services to help Filipinos start on urban farming and utilize space in their homes to produce vegetables, fruits and even grains they need.
Technology has been so effective that many urban farms are now available and very doable in highly developed cities such as Hong Kong where land and space are also scarce. Everyone can do this at their own backyard.
There are several organizations and companies that already help in teaching people how to do this. This allows us to be self sufficient and not be too dependent on what the country produces because we know it will not be enough for everyone.
Likewise, there is an opportunity to produce more high valued goods such as organic rice or other higher priced vegetables that we can monetize and export. There will always be opportunities for those seeking them even in the midst of a crisis.
Sustainability should always be the end objective.
Kay Calpo Lugtu is the COO of Hungry Workhorse, Co-Founder of Caucus, Inc. and Deputy Director of Global Chamber Manila. Her advocacies include data privacy, financial literacy, and nation-building. The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or, to the more cautious now, at email@example.com.