MANILA - The government must work on improving agriculture productivity to address major economic concerns despite the faster than expected gross domestic product growth in 2021, economist and former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Cielito Habito said Friday.
The country's GDP expanded by 5.6 percent last year, exceeding the government target of 5 to 5.5 percent.
Agriculture could have contributed more if "rational policies" are in place, Habito told ANC.
"It would have contributed even more positively to that bottomline. Agriculture remains a very resilient and very strong sector but we have to do something about that African Swine Fever that has also led to that higher inflation," he said.
Inflation hovered above the government target of 2 to 4 percent in most part of 2021 due to elevated meat prices, especially pork due to the African Swine Fever.
Full year inflation was at 4.5 percent, significantly higher compared to 2020's 2.6 percent.
Aside from making food available, food security is also about keeping prices affordable, Habito said, adding that the country should take a look at its “restrictive” trade policies.
“A really rational policy is one that looks at the possibility that imports can fill in that supply especially if its too expensive to produce domestically," he said.
“We really have to look at agriculture, increasing productivity, not shielding our markets for imports, but generally helping our farmers match up with their counterparts in Thailand, Vietnam."
Habito said education woes and hunger, which are aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic, should also be addressed. These would have an impact in the future of jobs and productivity, he said.
In line with his "Presyo, Trabaho and Kita" (PiTIK) metric, Habito said price is a bit concerning, unemployment is still an "important concern" but there is "good news" on the income side.
"What we need to happen is the improving growth in economy translates into better jobs and of course hopefully, more stabilized prices," he said.