Bad, bad agriculture

Agriculture has taken a dip by 2.65 per cent in the first three quarters, but government insists that the culprit was the spate of typhoons and El Nino that battered the crops subsector.

Yet Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala noted that  it wasn’t really that bad at all, with  poultry, livestock and fisheries subsectors registering modest gains.

El Nino actually hit hard on rice and corn farmers, contributing to the 7.2 per cent decline of the crops subsector. The delay in the rainy season planting of palay and corn had to be deferred to July and August. As a result, bulk of the palay and corn harvest would be accounted late in the last quarter of the year,Value-wise, Alcala pointed out that the total agriculture production grossed P882.7 billion at current prices. Of the gainers, poultry notched three per cent growth, followed by livestock at one per cent and fisheries registering at one per cent expansion.

The three subsectors accounted for about 56 per cent of total agricultural output.

While the crops subsector contributed 44 per cent of total agricultural production, it retreated by 7.24 per cent for the first nine months. The total gross output for the subsectors was worth P453.9 billion.

The figures released by the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics showed that palay and corn output decreased by 15 per cent, with rice down to 9.27 million metric tons (MMT) and corn accounting for only 4.73 MMT.
Total palay harvest was valued at P140.6 billion and corn yield was worth P51.9 billion.

Among the top gainers were tobacco which topped the list with 11.6 per cent, followed by mango at 7.6 per cent, banana at 1.2 per cent and abaca at 1 per cent.

The only good news was that overall farmers again enjoyed better prices for their products as the average farmgate prices increased by 5.8 per cent.

Not really bad after all? If we look at the performance of DA, there’s really nothing to worry about.

Every year, government reports losses in agriculture.

But the new government promises food security for all. In the past, the immediate remedy for such a loss was to beef up the country’s crop importation, which was criticized by the new regime as an anomalous practice and prone to graft.

There might be a change in leadership, but this leaves us wondering how we can finally address the age-old problem of food security when we can’t even improve our agricultural productivity.

The agriculture secretary wanted to expand rice production to include upland farming, just to meet the demands. That’s a wise move since we don’t have enough irrigation and naturally we are forced to depend on rain-fed practices, which obviously will not increase the harvest yield for rice and corn unless we maximize the use of arable lands.

Perhaps it’s also time to look at this chronic problem without limiting the blame on government policy, corruption or poor technology since other rice-producing countries face the same difficulties.

Our land per capita is about one fourth of Thailand’s and our rice land per capita is only half of Vietnam even if the total Philippine arable land is actually higher than Vietnam’s.

Thailand and Vietnam have contiguous farms while our rice producing areas are scattered in so many island. Worse, the Philippines lies right smack in the typhoon belt.

So geography is partly to blame since there are not enough suitable land and cheap water to supply farms.

Rice remains as the biggest item in the food basket, and Filipinos are eating less and less vegetables fruits, meat and any other substance on the table.

Apart from arguing for change in food culture, experts are suggesting the reduction of costs for production and distribution.

If government wants to cut subsidies, it should also increase the number of jobs to increase purchasing power and raise the demand for food.

Still, that needs  political will. But we may be off to a good start. Joel Paredes

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