By Madelaine B. Miraflor
The country’s agriculture sector has failed to meet all expectations for the year, even the much lower growth projection Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol has made just a few weeks ago.
A review of the sector’s performance recently done by the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Management Council (MANCOM) showed Philippine agriculture and fisheries only went up by 1 percent last year.
This was not only lower compared to the nearly 4 percent growth the sector has achieved in 2017. A 1 percent growth is also not anywhere near the DA’s target for 2018, which has been revised a couple of times.
First, the agency was expecting the sector to grow by at least the same level as it did two years ago. By December, it became much more realistic with a growth forecast of 2.5 percent.
“2018 was a tough year,” Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said on Thursday following the annual review of the agency’s MANCOM.
It was the typhoons, he said, that significantly brought down the sector’s performance. In 2018, a super typhoon and 12 more tropical storms hit the country almost every month, wiping out 1.8 million metric tons (MT) of crops with an estimated value of P36 billion.
Sector-wise, DA missed most of its target production level for the year, except for poultry, which posted higher-than-expected numbers.
The country, for instance, was expected to produce a total of 19.4 million metric tons (MT) of rice by the end of 2018, which would have been the country’s highest palay output, but it looks like year-end output only totaled to 19.1 million MT.
The corn sector, also a main staple, lost about P10 billion worth of production.
The official data measuring the growth of the agriculture sector would come from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), which is due for release more than a week from now.
In the meantime, MANCOM — which is composed of all top officials of the DA and heads of its bureaus and attached agencies including the National Food Authority (NFA) and the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) — agreed to adopt measures to mitigate the effects of tropical disturbances and climate change to the agriculture sector.
Among the measures identified were the adjustment in the planting calendar and a shift in the focus on production areas. The DA is particularly planning to groom Samar as the next major rice producing area in the Philippines.
MANCOM also identified “five key areas of focus” where the sector’s money should be allotted to. This includes the completion of the 13,000 kilometer Farm-to-Market Road; intensification of the Solar-Powered Irrigation Project (SPIS) which should be enough to cover 500,000 hectares of farm within the next three years; and establishment of fisheries and agriculture post-harvest facilities to enhance productivity and lessen post-harvest losses.
They also proposed to allot enough budget for the development of logistics and transportation in order to fast-track and improve the movement of agriculture products across the country.
Piñol said DA’s MANCOM is also suggesting greater focus on the easy access credit program for farmers.
On December 18, Agriculture Undersecretary for Policy and Planning Segfredo Serrano said that with the projected shortfall in farm output, the agriculture sector would have to stage a growth of at least up to 3.5 percent to recover.
This will be backed by higher production for rice. DA Assistant Secretary for Operations Andrew Villacorta said the country’s rice production this year will be supported by the P10-billion budget from the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF).
RCEF is the tariff collected from all the imported rice set to enter the country sans the quantitative restriction (QR). It is meant to make the country’s local rice sector competitive amid the liberalization of rice importation.
Now up for President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature, the amended Republic Act (RA) No. 8178 or the Agricultural Tariffication Act of 1996 seeks to replace the QR on rice imports with a specific tariff rate.
On the back of RCEF, farmers may be able to grow their overall output to 20 million MT this year.
“For the first semester alone, we have produced 4.46 million MT in 2018. Next year, this should go up to about 4.7 million MT,” Villacorta said.