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YEARENDER: Government sustains gains in agricultural development.

MANILA, Philippines While 2017 can be considered "better" in terms of the country's agriculture performance, the government is still bent on achieving more as it slowly refocuses its priorities to meet the growing demand for major commodities. The local farm sector is on an upward swing after sustaining growth in the last three quarters and will likely hit another milestone as it is seen to post significant gains after several years of decline.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piaol seems to be in a celebratory mood. He believes there is more to be done to put the sector in a better light, improve its contribution to the country's economy, and address food security gaps.

"We have always campaigned for exports, not realizing that the Philippines is actually a market of 103 million plus and we cannot even satisfy the requirements of our own people," Piaol said in an interview. Even if the Philippines is gradually decreasing its dependence on imported rice, the country's main staple, it still cannot provide enough supplies of other commodities like garlic, onion, peanut and mongo, which are significantly increasing in import dependency ratios.

"We import mongo, peanuts, some vegetables and yet we go around the world promoting our coffee when we are also importing coffee," Piaol said. Business ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1 "The President said why don't we focus first on the Philippine market? Why don't we produce enough for the local market and if there will be excess, that's the time we can sell it for export," he added.

Going Local

While Piaol is open to exporting agricultural products, he intends to encourage more producers to use local raw materials to boost production and provide additional income for farmers. "We will support those who are exporting right now, but at the same time we will intensify our efforts to produce more of commodities needed by the local market," Piaol said.

The government is looking at incentivizing companies to lessen their exports and instead prioritize local consumption. "For instance, we keep on selling our coffees outside the country.

One way is to also lessen our participation in international marketing shows. We keep on going around the world with the product and yet, once the other countries order big bulk from us, we cannot even supply sufficient volume?" Piaol said.

The DA will also provide more planting materials on the crops that the country imports significantly such as mongo, onion, garlic and peanuts. "The top garlic expert of India is helping us.

In two years time, he can triple the country's onion production by merely adopting the Indian model," Piaol said. Dramatic improvements this year

Piaol said the DA made significant gains in ensuring enough supply of basic commodities.

"I think the best gauge in judging the performance of my department would be the sufficiency of basic commodities for the Filipino people," he said. "I am sorry if this is not being felt by Filipino consumers in spite of our efforts to produce more because we have an anomalous food supply chain.

This is something that we will have to address," Piaol added. Continuing what former agriculture secretary Proceso Alcala started, Piaol considers the nationwide distribution of fiber glass fishing boats to poor fishing families as another accomplishment.

The DA has so far released more than 5,000 boats to date and expects to distribute a total of 35,000 by the end of his term. The DA also launched the national inland fisheries development program which aims to repopulate the lakes, rivers and creeks of the country with over 200 million fingerlings.

Apart from this, the agency launched the Production Loan Easy Access (PLEA), which gives farmers and fisher folks access to non-collateralized credit at an interest rate of only six percent. Pinol also commenced the national colour-coded agriculture guide map which helps farmers determine crop suitability in their respective farms in order to address the gap in the sector.

Biggest challenge

The outbreak of the first avian influenza case in the country is what the agency considers as its biggest challenge for the year. This started in early August and worsened a few weeks after.

And while prices of poultry products are already back to normal levels, it would take a few more months before livelihood in the affected areas would normalize and the Philippines regains its bird-flu free status. "At the same time, we also showed the cooperation and support of local government units that any challenge and any trial could be dealt with effectively.

I think we really learned our lessons and that the sector was not heavily affected," Pinol said. Even though the country had its first ever bird flu case, the department is not keen on allotting a huge portion of its budget to address the issue.

"It is not really something that we would allocate a big budget for. It will be treated as another poultry issue.

We are not going to treat it as something that's extraordinary," Pinol said. "We will just make use of the quick response fund that we have.

This will serve as an emergency budget (should there be another case)," he added. 2018 and beyond

With the year coming to a close, the Agri chief is confident the sector will sustain its gains in the years ahead.

"I wouldn't be over overconfident. I don't want to overestimate but there will be of course dramatic growth in the agriculture sector and it is not mainly because of anything else, but because we are now more focused on whatever we need to achieve," Pinol said.

Apart from its priority rice program, which will focus on hybridization, the DA will start a full-blown implementation of its dairy program to further develop the industry and lessen its dependence on importation. "By next year with the help of the private sector, we will be able to bring in 5,000 heads of Girolando cattle which can increase our dairy production by about 22 million liters of milk and that will double the actual production right now.

We are hoping to hit at least 10 percent of the total requirement by the end of the President's term," Pinol said. The fisheries sector is also seen to grow, boosted by the strict implementation of the three-month closed fishing season, which has been proven to be effective.

"I don't want to claim credit. This was started by the previous administration, it's a practice that I think is very good that's why we are implementing and intensifying it.

Next year, we will be using light planes to conduct surveillance operations to strictly implement the fishing ban in specific regions of the country," Pinol said. The DA will also beef up efforts in preserving the Philippine Rise, which is being considered as the next food zone for the country.

This will be done by constructing locally-made vessels that will patrol the Philippine waters. "This will be the golden age of Filipino engineers and farmers of the DA.

As a matter of policy right now, we will rely on Filipino shipbuilders for our needed vessels at the BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources)," he added. Pinol said he would still try to request for a higher budget next year to allow the agency to achieve 100 percent self-sufficiency in rice by 2020. The DA was only given a budget of only P60.4 billion or nearly a third of its proposed P200 billion allocation, "If we can show our economic managers that we spend our budget efficiently, then we have all the reasons to ask for more money," he said.

Pinol said the DA aims to significantly reduce poverty by providing sufficient and affordable food for all.
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Publication:Philippines Star (Manila, Philippines)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Jan 3, 2018
Words:1431
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