HIGHER BUDGET TO HELP MEET AGRI GROWTH TARGET
Agriculture Secretary Manny Pinol is optimistic that an increased budget for 2019 of P106 billion, up from P49 billion in 2018, the agriculture sector is expected to bounce back and hit the set growth target of 2.5%.
He said an adjustment in the planting calendar for rice farmers in Northern Luzon, the "Southern Swing" initiative which will identify new farming areas outside of typhoon paths, an aggressive easy access credit program, the P10-B in tariffs from rice importation, the P10 billion Coco Levy Fund and a bigger budget allocation are expected to contribute to the robust growth of the Agriculture Sector in 2019.
President Rody Duterte earlier ordered greater focus on Agriculture by allocating a bigger budget which jumped from P49 billion in 2018 to P106 billion in 2019, including the P20 billion pushed by Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“Climatic conditions are also seen to influence positively the performance of the Agriculture with the feared El Niño hitting some parts of the country just in time for the harvest season when rains are unwanted,” Pinol said.
He said early indicators show an expected bountiful palay harvest in the first quarter of 2019 with the Department of Agriculture (DA) Regional Offices and the PhilRice field stations reporting increased yields in several areas in Mindanao.
PhilRice Executive Director Dr. Sailila Abdula said the increase in yield could be attributed to the 12% increase in the number of rice farmers who now use high-yielding hybrid and inbred seeds, from 48% to 60% in the first two years of the Duterte Presidency.
Learning from the historical data on the occurrence of typhoons in the northern part of the country, especially Central Luzon and Cagayan Valley which are the traditional rice production areas, the DA is now coordinating with the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) to adjust the planting calendar so that harvest would end by the second week of September.
“The role of the NIA in the implementation of the adjusted planting calendar is critical because the agency controls the release of the irrigation water,” Pinol said.
The DA has also instructed Regional Field Offices to identify at least 300,000-hectares of under-utilized and unused farm lands which could be planted to rice with support of free seeds, irrigation and machinery.
The program is called the "Southern Swing Initiative" which focuses on areas least vulnerable to climatic disturbances for agricultural production, especially rice and feed grains like corn and sorghum.
Samar Island, Leyte, Caraga Region and Central Mindanao, including areas surrounding Liguasan Marsh, have been identified as the expansion areas.
The expanded Easy Access Credit Program which has a total budget of P5.4 billion for 2019 is also expected to improve productivity by giving farmers and fisherfolk access to production loans.
The fishing grounds of the country are also targeted for post-harvest interventions which include the installation of ice-making and cold storage facilities to bring down the post-harvest losses from 40% of the catch to at least 20 percent.
All Regional Directors of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources were directed to ensure that at least 300 fish cages for Bangus and Tilapia production are established in each of their regions to contribute to national fish production.
Livestock and poultry, two of the very strong sectors of Agriculture, will also receive a boost from the Easy Access Credit Program through the Agriculture and Fisheries Machinery and Equipment Loaning Program which would allow them to acquire facilities such as village-level feed mills.
Pinol said the Agriculture sector is keenly awaiting the release of the P10-B Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) and the P10-B Coconut Levy Support Fund as these could contribute immensely to increasing productivity in these sectors.
The RCEF will be used for farm mechanization (P5 billion), high yielding rice seeds (P3 billion), Credit (P1 billion) and Skills Training (P1 billiob).
The Coco Levy funds, on the other hand, are intended to be used in establishing village level processing facilities to be owned and operated by the coconut farmers themselves.
These facilities will process high value coconut products like Virgin Coconut Oil, Coco Sugar, Coco Syrup and others and free farmers from their dependence on Copra as the main source of income.