To the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture led by Director Dr. Gil Saguiguit, Jr., representatives of various development organizations based here and abroad, past and present officials of the Philippine Government, colleagues and partners in development, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

I am honored to speak on behalf of President Aquino today. Allow me to share with you his message for this occasion:

When we started treading the straight path, we identified agriculture as one of the top sectors that required the attention of government. For many decades, this key industry was left in the margins: farming communities lacked roads and processing facilities, which in turn burdened the common farmer even more. Government support back then lacked the sincere commitment to improve the industry, which in turn left the farmer and his family trapped in a vicious cycle of neglect, underdevelopment, and missed opportunities.

We knew that, if we were to lay the foundations for our country’s resurgence, agriculture was a sector that needed a boost up. Rightly so, because agriculture is a stomach industry; increasing our capacity to produce and supply our own food redounded not only to the improvement of the farmer’s condition, but also to expanding our ability to address the basic needs of our people.

Thus we rolled up our sleeves, and pursued interventions aimed at revitalizing this sector. This was part of a comprehensive strategy to empower sectors that have the greatest impact in spurring inclusive growth at the community level.

I am told that, to date, agriculture provides 32 percent of livelihood and employment across the country, contributing to nearly 10 percent of our GDP. We also found out that in the first semester of 2014, despite the challenges posed by recent disasters, our agricultural sector grew by 2.2 percent, valuing at 347.1 billion pesos. Subsectors related to crops, livestock, and poultry have seen an increase in production from the previous year.

We have likewise seen more farmlands connected to hubs of industry and growth, brought about by our continuous construction of farm-to-market roads. Our government is also constructing the necessary infrastructure to facilitate the growth of agriculture in the country. Among the flagship rural development programs is the Mindanao Rural Development Program (MRDP), now on its second phase, and the appraisal activities for the proposed Philippine Rural Development Program (PRDP), which have been implemented by the Department of Agriculture in partnership with World Bank. PRDP will be an up scaling of MRDP, adapted to carry forward DA’s refocus on value chain improvement, enterprise and cluster development, and vertical integration from production to processing and even to marketing. Through these interventions, we intend to provide an impetus for the growth of the rural economy. This, on top of the ports, airports, and other transport hubs we’re currently constructing and upgrading to improve transport and travel across the archipelago.

Our Department of Trade and Industry has likewise initiated the Shared Services Facilities (SSF) project, to give the micro, small, and medium enterprises—the first consumers of agricultural produce and raw materials—better access to technology and equipment. This redounds to enabling such industries go up the value chain. Complementary to this, we have been working to enable more of our countrymen to move from low productivity areas in agriculture, to high-productivity areas in manufacturing and services, encouraging modernization in these vital industries. By improving agricultural linkages to areas of commerce, and innovating the way we produce, we have expanded the services and products the Philippines has to offer. This in turn has spurred greater confidence in our capacities, and has opened doors of opportunity for the many Filipinos involved in these areas.

Aside from accelerating infrastructure development and providing our people with the wherewithal to improve their production capacity, we have also invested in human development through the expansion of healthcare, education, and social protection services to break the cycle of poverty among families, especially for those in the agricultural area. This follows our belief that a healthy and educated citizenry is better able to contribute to the sustained growth of our economy.

All our efforts would not be possible without your help and support, and, rest assured, we will continue to be hard at work in igniting a virtuous cycle of empowerment, stability, and opportunity in our country and within our region, a region which we envision to be a wellspring of growth and opportunity.

Indeed: I, together with my Cabinet, look forward to working with you, as we tread the path to mutual advancement. As President, it is my hope that through this conference, we will forge our synergies even more, enhance our capacities to address the needs of our sectors and of our respective peoples, and thus ultimately strengthen the foundations of equitable prosperity, which will redound to the benefit of our societies and of the many generations to come. It is by working together that we build a Southeast Asia where no one is left behind. Thank you, and good day.(Viron Hernandez)