DA busier in bringing down food prices than supporting production

Published May 10, 2021, 8:00 AM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

The Department of Agriculture (DA) was more preoccupied with bringing down food prices than supporting food production during the first three months of this year, said a Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI) official. 

“The government favors more on the consumers’ side rather than on agriculture production, which I think over the long run will perpetuate our dependence on imports,” PCAFI President Danilo V. Fausto said in a text exchange.

Fausto called this “a dangerously wrong policy to leave our food security at the hands of imports rather than make a sincere and focus effort to increase our agricultural productivity and efficiency from our expanding poor rural communities.” 

On the agriculture sector’s performance in the first three months of this year, he said, “it’s better to wait for the Q1 performance for the agriculture sector.”

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) is scheduled to release the agriculture sector’s performance during the first three months of the year today (May 10, 2021). 

With food prices pushing inflation higher, there has been a lot of pressure on DA lately to bring down the cost of food, particularly meat prices. 

To address this, the DA came up with several measures to improve the supply of pork, which has been going down due to the prevalence of African Swine Fever (ASF). 

These proposals include temporarily slashing pork import tariffs as well as increasing the minimum access volume (MAV) allocation on pork, which resulted in weeks of disagreement between the government’s economic team and the Senate. 

The Senate did not fully appreciate these proposals and expressed concerns on the potential negative impact of the entry of more pork imports into the country to the already struggling local hog industry.  But Senators and the economic team already came up with a compromise last week on this matter. 

Fausto noted that it is not wrong to bring down food prices but he also said that prices are governed by supply and demand. 

“Government policy must have long-term outlook and clear foresight,” Fausto said. “Today, government policies are run by stop-gap measures and reactive mindset. They think only about how they will perform during their term in office and not beyond. Thinking only of themselves and not of the long term well-being of Filipinos.”

Over the weekend, Agriculture Secretary William Dar assured that there is enough food in the country amid the prevalence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Rice production is enough as well as for corn,” Dar said. For fish, it is open season now and there is enough supply. It is also harvest season for fruits and vegetables so prices are very affordable.

For the whole year of 2020, the country’s total farm output went down by 1.2 percent in 2020, from a growth of 0.7 percent in 2019, after crops, livestock, poultry, and fisheries all recorded lower production, data from PSA showed.

In the fourth quarter of last year alone, output declined by 3.8 percent, which is higher compared to the level of the decline of 0.1 percent in agricultural production during the same period in 2019.

At the time, the value of agricultural production stood at P503.8 billion at current prices. This was 5.0 percent higher than the previous year’s level.

Dar attributed the decline to what he called a “perfect storm”, which was comprised of a series of typhoons from November to December, the persistence of COVID-19 pandemic, and ASF outbreaks, Taal Volcano eruption in January, among others.

For this year, however, the DA chief is still bent on targeting a 2.5 percent growth in farm output.

During the fourth quarter of last year, crop production, which contributed 57.9 percent to the total agricultural production, contracted by -0.4 percent, while its full-year output grew by 1.5 percent.

Moving forward, he said the DA expects the production of rice and corn sub-sectors to further increase in the first semester and the entire 2021, barring strong typhoons.  This, as close to P20 billion has been allotted for the production of these staples.

Meanwhile, livestock production, which shared 15.4 percent of the total agricultural output, decreased by 12.9 percent. Year-on-year, it posted a -7.4 percent decrease in production.

At current prices, the value of livestock production amounted to P85.3 billion or 15.1 percent more this quarter.

To rev up the livestock sub-sector, particularly the hog industry, Dar said the DA will implement a swine re-population program, where backyard and commercial raisers on ASF-free areas or “green zones” will be given incentives to go back into the business.