The Philippine economy is comprised of only three major sectors – agriculture, industry and services. Agriculture accounts for a mere 14% of the economy and, in the past 30 years, registered the slowest growth rate. This is a shame since it accounts for a third of the jobs in the economy; thus, the sector is home to the largest number of poor Filipinos because its workers are paid the least.
The failure of agrarian reform deserves much of the blame for the sector’s lack of performance. I would even say that the Philippine agrarian reform program’s inability to properly define the property rights of agricultural land (setting the right limit to land owned, ensuring that the farmer can use the land to access farming implements through loans, etc.) is the main reason why agriculture remains in its languishing state. To quote a study by Professor Alberto Vargas of the University of Wisconsin in 2003, “the Philippines has one of the worst land tenure problems in the developing world” which has led to land conflicts that induced the creation of the Hukbalahap and the New People’s Army as means of redress.
In a world with an ever increasing demand for food, agriculture and its downstream industry, agro-processing, are one of the most viable sources of growth. How then can we make agrarian reform work?