OPINION | Helping the agri sector by Carmelito Q. Francisco

The recent appointment of Alex V. Buenaventura as president of the government-run Land Bank of the Philippines is a much-needed shot in the arm for the agricultural sector.

Buenaventura brings with him about a decade of experience in expanding a rural bank into a force to reckon with in the industry.

When he left One Network Bank (ONB) in August -- his last act was to lead the bank in its appreciation night -- the rural bank, although not being the one with the biggest capital in the rural banking sector, it is the only Mindanao-based bank that has invaded Luzon and the Visayas, having set up branches in the Panay Island as well as Makati. Lately, the bank, now a rural bank of the Henry Sy-led BDO, has started its strides in Luzon.

It was also under the leadership of Buenaventura that ONB, whose majority owner then was the Consunji group, became among the few institutions that were able to help provide better lending windows to the agricultural sector.

For example, in order for the borrowers not to fail in their projects, ONB designed loan windows that allowed it to supervise their farming activities so that they would stick with the good agricultural practices necessary for them to achieve higher production.

So it was not a surprise when Buenaventura, upon the invitation of the Finance department just three days before Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III named him to head the government bank, spoke during the Philippine Development Forum on the ways to improve the access of farmers to government funds.

In his presentation, Buenaventura pointed out the need for government to form corporative farms so they could be provided with better loan packages with supervised mechanism.

But before government could do this, it is important for concerned agencies to identify suitable crops depending on location so that farmers will be taught on how to maximize production and, in the process earn better.

Another point that he raised was for government to also provide loans to bigger buyers so that farmers will have ready market for their produce.

The concept that Buenaventura is introducing to the government bank is something that is necessary for the agricultural sector to be able to perform its role as the food provider of the country.

Farmers, just like their unrelated siblings, the small and medium entrepreneurs, have been complaining about the lack of access to loans as borrowing from banks, even when these institutions are mandated to provide them windows, is prohibitive especially on the need for a collateral. Hence, the government must craft a mechanism that will ease the burden of farmers in accessing much-needed assistance, unlike in the past when their calls fell on deaf ears.

Buenaventura is a seasoned banker who has been instrumental in steering a rural bank into greater heights, something that even some bigger banks are envy of. This corner hopes that his expertise will also rub off the government institution whose main mandate is to help a sector that needs not just mere lending window but also utmost attention.
Carmelito Q. Francisco has been in community journalism for two-and-a-half decades with half of it spent on writing business stories. At present, he is the managing editor of the Davao City-based Mindanao Times and a correspondent of business broadsheet BusinessWorld