Philippine agriculture: Resilience amid recession

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First of two parts
By Gabriel Christian Lacson and Julius D. Mariveles

IN A NUTSHELL: As figures plunged for two straight quarters this year, memories of the sugar industry crisis of the 80s seem to haunt Negros Occidental province, the Sugar Bowl of the Philippines.

As the country sails into the economic doldrums, businesses here are feeling the pinch, some have scaled down operations, retrenched or rotated workers, others have shut down entirely.

There is a silver lining to the seemingly grim situation, however, even as some observers here, like Bacolod City Mayor Evelio Leonardia, have compared the current slowdown to the sugar industry crisis in the 80s.

In this special report, DNX Executive Editor and political correspondent Gabriel Christian Lacson take a look at the pandemic-induced crisis and explore the other aspects of the crisis as well as possible solutions.

It is 6pm.

The janitors start to clean the floors of a family-style restaurant here as the waiters start to fold the tablecloths.

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“Bwas naman (Service resumes tomorrow),” Jude, a waiter says as he starts to unbotton his uniform.

At the grilling area, Ronald starts to douse the coals and inventory the roasted and barbecued chickens.

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Before the quarantine, Tingting’s Native Food is juat starting to fill up for dinner service.

Lately, it closes around this time.

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Curfew starts 8pm in Bacolod, the city of half a million that has more than 500 COVID positive cases so far, and a health system that appears to teeter on the edge of collpase unless local authorities take drastic action.

Bebot, the owner, usually sits at the small table near the stairs during lunch and dinner services.

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Now, he usually sits on a table for four, a stained, hardwood one near the counter.

When Tingting’s introduced broiler lechon manok in the city, he used to sell 200 of them by noontime.

Just by noontime.

He still sells them but not as many as before.

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The Philippine economy officially entered a recession during the second quarter of 2020.

Its Gross Domestic Product contracted by 16.5 percent, A recession, defined as two quarters of negative economic growth, has been in the offing since most industries save for essential ones like food and medicine ground to a halt as a result of the lockdowns and quarantines imposed to fight the outbreak of the coronavirus disease.

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Averaging a growth rate of six percent in 2019, this downturn is the first to affect the Philippines during the 21st century, with the last downturn happening during the Asian crisis in the late 1990s.

The prognosis of the Philippine economy along with any foreseeable upticks in the economic situation remain bleak for the near future, with an L-shaped recovery being forecast by economist Nicholas Mapa of ING Bank Manila.

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An L-shaped recovery is characterized by a sluggish pace of economic growth involving persistent unemployment. These grim economic forecasts for the Philippines threatens to wipe away the past few years of economic growth which it experienced.

According to a recent report by the World Bank, the impact of COVID-19 on the Philippine economy, already the world’s most restrictive against international investors as per the OECD, is foreseen to be severe and damaging for a developing country.

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The same report mentioned that the Philippines remains reliant on remittances from its overseas workers with minimal reliance on foreign direct investments, the report noting that “Amid increased global uncertainty, net foreign direct investment (FDI) inflow is expected to be negative for developing countries including the Philippines.”

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The influx of workers returning home and being laid off from work presents a challenge to the current economic paradigm.

(To be continued)

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