POSTSCRIPT / November 18, 2007 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Aggie posts impressive growth despite drought

CLIMATE CRISIS: Former US vice president Al Gore warned upon receiving the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize that global warming “is the greatest challenge we’ve ever faced.” The climate crisis, he said, is not a political issue, but “a moral and spiritual challenge to all.”

John Podesta, then President Clinton’s chief of staff and now president of the think tank Center for American Progress, predicts a grim scenario of “people and nations threatened by massive food and water shortages, devastating natural disasters and deadly disease outbreaks.”

He says that climate change will force internal and cross-border migrations as people leave food- and water-deficient areas.

Podesta notes that economies like the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia, will be vulnerable to these mass migrations, notably from countries where Islamic fundamentalism has grown.

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DRY SPELL: In the Philippines, we have the likes of Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap raising the alarm over the threat of climate change on the farm sector and the entire economy – and taking steps to blunt the dire effects.

The secretary recalls the dry spell that hit Luzon’s rice areas last August, which ironically should have been the start of the wet season.

The weather bureau has predicted a prolonged dry spell, but just as the Department of Agriculture was preparing to go full-blast on its intervention measures, the rains fell as a series of typhoons hit Northern Luzon in October and this month.

From El Nino, we were visited by La Nina in a span of less than three months.

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FOOD SHORTAGES: Yap cited reports that such countries as Bangladesh, India and China are projecting massive rice shortages.

This could mean that other economies like the Philippines, which sometimes imports this food staple, could have a hard time procuring rice in the world market if it does not reserve stocks early from rice exporters.

As a result of extreme climate changes triggering floods, droughts and heavy snowfall, countries that used to have no problem producing wheat, corn and rice now face shortages and spiraling food prices.

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GLOBAL DROP: The Food and Agriculture Organization is reportedly set to announce that food reserves are at their lowest in 25 years and that prices are likely to remain high.

In China, food price inflation has reached 18 percent, while Indonesia and Pakistan have to cope with a 13-percent hike in food costs. Data show that wheat price has doubled, that corn is almost 50-percent and rice 20-percent more expensive than they were a year ago.

The drought cut by nearly 40 percent the projections in Australia for winter harvests. Its Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics said was the worst in more than a decade.

The Philippines may be lucky, because it has survived the dry spell and even surpassed its farm growth targets.

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FACING 2008: Eyeing long-term approaches to climate change, Yap plans to meet soon with all sectors concerned to apprise them of the global threat and work out countermeasures.

First on his list are local government executives who, he said, are the best implementers of government initiatives at the grassroots. His plan recalls his quick-turnaround (QTA) program and other initiatives that offset crop losses in Luzon areas hit by the dry spell.

Frisco Malabanan, head of the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) rice program, said the QTA, implemented from August to Sept. 15, increased production in drought-free rice-producing areas, mostly in Mindanao.

Assistant Secretary Dennis Araullo, who heads the GMA corn program, said his group aims for an additional 385,000 metric tons of the grain, and provide additional incomes to farmers of at least P18,000 per hectare.

Palay and corn harvests totaled 9.87 million metric tons and 5.29 million metric tons, respectively, despite the dry spell in several Luzon areas.

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GOOD NEWS: Just recently, Yap and other DA officials flew to Camiguin to work with local officials and farmers in fine-tuning measures to sustain agriculture’s surge in the fourth quarter and into 2008.

Everybody was buoyed by the good news that agriculture posted an impressive 4.3 percent growth in the first nine months of the year.

This was achieved despite a midyear dry spell that threatened to cripple farms and set off food shortages and price spirals.

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GAINERS: The biggest gainers for the third quarter were fisheries which grew 7.92 percent, and crops which produced nearly half (46.77 percent) of total agricultural output with its 4.17 percent expansion.

Citing agricultural statistics, Yap announced in a media briefing last Wednesday that all subsectors recorded “output increments” in the January-September period, generating a combined production value of P684.1 billion, or a 6.75-percent jump over 2006 levels.

The gross value of fisheries reached P134.6 billion at current prices, up by 10.58 percent, with commercial fisheries expanding 10.71 percent; aquaculture, 6.5 percent; and municipal fisheries, 8.16 percent.

In the crops subsector, palay and corn yields grew, respectively, by 3.45 percent and 9.5 percent. The gross value of crops reached P350.9 billion at current prices, posting a 6.21-percent gain this year.

Stakeholders credit this relatively impressive performance to the resolve to carry out intervention measures put in place by Yap and other DA officials to increase yields and contain the adverse impact of the dry spell.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 18, 2007)

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