POSTSCRIPT / May 31, 2007 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Filipino farmers need not be gaunt, unshod

STEREOTYPE: Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap wants a radical change in the stereotype image of the gaunt, barefoot Filipino farmer by replicating the success stories of model farmers who have become highly profitable businessmen.

Yap wants farmers to be like Antonio Villanueva Sr. of Ilocos Sur, who earns P700,000 annually from his 2.5-hectare riceland; or Jojo Garcia of Nueva Ecija who produces 250 cavans of rice per hectare, or three times the national average of 75 cavans.

He also cited the examples of Roberto Ballon of Zamboanga Sibugay who has transformed his town of Kabasalan into a major fish and oyster supplier of Pagadian, Zamboanga, Cebu and Cagayan de Oro; and Isabela farmers Rogelio Manangan, who has acquired tractors and jeepneys from his corn earnings, and Philippe Andrew Maramba who earns about P500,000 per hectare from growing eggplants, hot pepper, ampalaya and other vegetables.

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MODEL FARMERS: Yap presented the five model farmers at the recent “Farmers’ Night” of the Manila Overseas Press Club.

To replicate their successes, he said the Department of Agriculture will embark on a five-point program that will sustain the sector’s growth and assure “greater profitability” for small farmers and fishermen.

The program calls for spending more for (1) infrastructure, (2) technology and extension services, and (3) post-harvest and storage facilities; (4) for expanding access to rural credit; and (5) for opening new markets here and abroad.

From 2006 to 2010, the government expects to repair irrigation for some 300,000 hectares of farmlands.

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WASTAGE CUT: Through the National Irrigation Administration, the DA repaired facilities covering 20,000 hectares in 2006. It will rehabilitate other facilities covering another 52,000 hectares this year.

Major irrigation projects in various stages are the Banaoang pump in Ilocos Sur, Agno River project in Pangasinan, Balog-Balog dam in Tarlac, Balintingon dam in Nueva Ecija, and the Kabulnan project in Maguindanao.

To clip the high post-harvest crop wastages that lead to spikes in commodity prices, the DA is building drying and storage systems for major commodities to improve the capability to store and move grains in bulk.

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CREDIT EASED: Reduction in spoilage ranges from 10-15 percent for grains and 50 percent for vegetables and fish. The savings, estimate to run to billions of pesos, impact on farm incomes and consumer prices.

The department is also restructuring financially DA-attached firms. For instance, the financing of the National Food Authority is being restructured to free up assets and funds for bankrolling programs vital to modernizing agriculture.

As for rural credit, Yap said the DA is reforming the regulations on crop insurance to facilitate rural credit.

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ROBUST GROWTH: Agriculture achieved a relatively robust growth in the first quarter, driven largely by the growth in key fishery and crops subsectors and the turnaround of the poultry industry.

The sector grew 3.55 percent in the three months ending March — posting an almost 5 percent jump in value to P243.2 billion at current prices, which is higher than previous first-quarter growth figures.

Data from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics show that the first-quarter performance of agriculture was better than during the previous years, such as the 0.57-percent first-quarter growth posted in 2005.

Like last year, the fishery subsector netted the highest gain during the first quarter at 8.52 percent, with current-price value rising to P43.676 billion, or 10.34 percent over last year’s first-quarter.

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SECTOR UPTURN: This year’s first quarter also saw the dramatic recovery of the poultry subsector, which expanded 2.3 percent from a negative growth rate in 2006, reporting gross revenue of P30.27 billion.

The crops sector, on the other hand, turned in gross revenue of P129.963 billion, or 2.22 percent over the same period last year.

Corn output expanded 11.43 percent with an 18.95-percent spike in value at P17.52 billion.

Palay output went up 1.63 percent with a 4.14 percent increase in gross value to P40.59 billion from last year’s level. Total palay output during the quarter was 3.676 million metric tons, while that of corn was 1.704 million MT.

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BETTER LIFE: With this sustained upturn in farm growth, Yap said the government will hit its expansion target of 4-5 percent this year and a far higher 7-8 percent goal in 2008.

The objective of the Arroyo administration, he said, is to ensure better living standards for rural families in the face of “pressures” on agriculture such as wildly changing weather patterns, increasing food requirements for the growing population, the rising global demand for crops for non-food uses, and environmental degradation.

Yap noted: “The challenge that confronts us today is how to address agriculture’s growth beyond ‘modest’ rates and into a sustained pace — at least a yearly average of about 5-6 percent for the next decade — that can be felt by our rural folk in terms of better living standards.”

As it is, improved agricultural production and post-harvest handling are contributing to the taming of the inflation rate, which has gone down to 2.3 percent. Note the stable prices of food items.

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CONSULTATION: The department presided last May 19 over a consultative workshop attended by agriculture officials and over 50 agriculture industry leaders at the Seameo-Innotech complex in Quezon City.

The workshop drew up “doable” action plans for improving government-private sector partnership in boosting farm production and export growth over the next three years.

Yap said that with the cooperation of industry leaders and other stakeholders, agriculture’s growth target for this year might even be surpassed, especially with the government’s huge investments in rural infrastructure this year and onwards.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 31, 2007)

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