Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos handed the post of agriculture secretary to a fishing tycoon on Friday, as the government struggles to rein in surging food prices.
Francisco Laurel, president of the deep-sea fishing company Frabelle Fishing Corporation, understood “the problems that agriculture is facing”, Marcos said after swearing in the new secretary.
Marcos made himself agriculture secretary after becoming president in June 2022 and has overseen a surge in prices for produce, including staples like onions and rice.
He sparked criticism in September when he imposed a temporary price cap on rice, which some economists warned could distort the market and lead to shortages.
Marcos said Laurel’s priority was gaining “control of the prices of all the agricultural commodities that are going up”.
Year-on-year inflation accelerated in September to 6.1 percent, from 5.3 percent in August, driven by a 10 percent rise in food prices.
About a quarter of the country’s labor force works in the agriculture sector, but it accounts for less than 10 percent of the economy, official figures show.
Poor yields, high costs, insufficient investment in irrigation and machinery, lack of access to cold storage facilities and farm-to-market roads, and crop-destroying typhoons have long plagued the sector.
Pest outbreaks as well as soaring oil and fertiliser prices since Russia invaded Ukraine have only added to its woes.
Laurel, 56, said his goal was to ensure that Filipino farmers had abundant harvests and that food was available to consumers “at the right price”.
Frabelle Fishing Corporation is part of a food, real estate, and power generation conglomerate.
It has a fleet of more than 100 vessels operating in the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans, according to its website.