By Madelaine B. Miraflor
The Philippines’ agriculture sector produced less yield in the first three months of the year or just as the entire country began bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the rest of the year, amid the persistence of the highly contagious virus, the outlook for the sector doesn’t seem too vibrant as well, but the Department of Agriculture (DA) said it is now doing what is necessary to increase the country’s food production.
A data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that from a 0.4 percent growth in the first quarter of 2019, the agriculture sector went down by 1.2 per¬cent during the same period this year on the weight of lower output both in crops and fisheries.
Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) Chairperson Rosendo So attributed the decline to slower movement of agriculture products like chicken and veg¬etables during the lockdown over Luzon and in other areas in the country, which began in February as part of government’s effort to control the spread of COVID-19.
“What contributed to the down¬turn was towards the end of the first quarter when crops are just beginning to be harvested and the effect of start of ECQ [enhanced community quarantine] on March 16. Except for rice, crops, fisheries and livestock cannot reach the intended market, preventing con-tinuing and sustained harvest of marketable crops, fish and meat,” Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food, Inc. (PCAFI) President Danilo Fausto said.
Fausto said that unless billions worth of stimulus package is provided for the agriculture sector, the industry is only going to head for another decline.
“The end of the first quarter will bring an era of deflation where agriculture prices are truly down to rock bottom due to lost of demand and consumption, supply chain disruptions, shutdown of outlets, supermarkets and restau¬rants and access to trading centers for the agriculture products,” Fausto said.
“If the stimulus package bill is approved and will be rolled out by June and the ECQ will be lifted by May 15, I will predict that we will have little positive growth,” he added.
Right now, players in the agriculture sector are asking for a ₱32-billion share from the economic recovery stimulus package being pushed for in the Congress now.
So, however, is more optimistic, saying that the sector will have a “better second quarter performance” as the demand will surely increase in the next few months.
For his part, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the DA is now taking the necessary steps to boost domestic food production and attain higher levels of food sufficiency in the coming months.
Dar said the fall was expected due to a host of factors during the first quarter, being the planting season for rice, and the implementation of the closed fishing season in major fishing grounds around Panay Island, Sulu and Palawan.
The impact of the eruption of Taal Volcano was also factored in during the period.
“But we are hopeful of a rebound for the second quarter, despite the impact of the corona¬virus or COVID-19 crisis, as strategic interventions under the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund are expected to bear fruit and closed fishing season is lifted on these rich fishing grounds,” the DA chief further said.
As a result of decline in agriculture production during the first quarter, prices inched up, pushing the value of agricultural production to ₱441.2 billion, up by 3.4 percent from the previous year’s level, the PSA data showed.
Crops were valued higher by 3.6 percent to ₱239.4 billion, while poultry’s value surged by 14.4 percent to ₱62.9 billion. Fisheries, on the other hand, inched up by 0.1 percent to ₱63.3 billion.