POSTSCRIPT / January 8, 2008 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Aggie proving itself as economy backbone

CLARK FIELD: Two positive stories that greeted 2008 had to do with the reported creation of a million jobs last year and the latest tracking survey showing a big drop in the incidence of hunger across the country in the October-December quarter.

Acting director-general Augusto Santos of the National Economic and Development Authority said the government was likely to hit its target of one million new jobs in 2007, owing in large part to the strong performance of the services, particularly the business process outsourcing industry, and agriculture.

Although the full-year employment target in the medium-term development plan was set at one million jobs, Santos said the jobs created actually numbered only 978,000 in 2004 then dipped to 699,000 the next year and to 486,000 in 2006.

But the one-million target was expected to be reached for the first time in 2007, according to the NEDA secretary, as the number was already 767,000 as of last October and the economy was expected to expand faster in the last quarter.

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LESS HUNGER: With more stable food supplies and prices arising from the surprise turnaround of the farm sector, the hunger level fell at the close of the year, as shown in the last-quarter survey of the Social Weather Stations.

The SWS report showed a sharp drop in the number of families suffering from hunger from the nine-year high of 21.5 percent in the previous quarter to 16.2 percent in the October-December period.

The survey showed the number of families that experienced hunger dropped 8 percentage points from 22.3 percent to 14 percent in Luzon, by 7 percentage points from 21.7 to 14.3 percent in the Visayas, and by two percentage points from 22 to 20.3 percent in Mindanao over the past two quarters of 2007.

Both positive reports point to the better-than-expected performance of agriculture and how its turnaround had made a dramatic impact on the economy, specifically on farmers and consumers in terms of higher farm incomes and stable retail prices.

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SUPPLY, PRICES: The Department of Agriculture has been commended for the growth surge despite a midyear dry spell that weather experts and government economists had feared would upset farm output and hobble the economy in 2007.

An indicator of this apparent success is the relatively stable supply and prices of foodstuff, especially during the recent holidays when consumer demand was at its seasonal peak.

During the holidays, prices of basic items such as meat, fish, chicken and vegetables remained stable owing to the preemptive measures of the agriculture department led by Secretary Arthur Yap.

Yap had the foresight to secure commitments from sugar producers, meat processors and poultry raisers to keep their prices at current levels.

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SPENDING BOOST: Yap said he was helped in no small measure by President Gloria Arroyo’s delivering on her commitment to raise public spending in agriculture, which accounts for 20 percent of the gross domestic product.

The massive fund releases helped Yap in carrying out his department’s program on food security and farm modernization, and in swiftly responding to problems encountered in his area of responsibility.

Faced with the grim scenario painted in June by the weather bureau of a prolonged dry spell that could devastate farms in the second half of 2007, Yap had downgraded official growth projections for agriculture.

Later, however, he regained his upbeat outlook, expecting it to fight back and grow by 4.5 to 5 percent, after a strong third-quarter performance.

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AGGIE SURGE: Helping along were aggressive measures in rural infrastructure, post-harvest facilities and seed technology.

Even the dry spell failed to stop agriculture from growing 4.3 percent in the nine months to September, with the fisheries sub-sector posting the biggest expansion at 7.92 percent with its production worth P134.6 billion.

No wonder industry leaders are praising what they said was Yap’s skilful management of agriculture’s resources, his looking after its stakeholders, focusing on the right priorities and deft use of funds.

The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization cited President Arroyo’s “dynamic leadership,” commitment and level of political will as key to the success of initiatives to mitigate hunger and reduce poverty.

The US Department of Agriculture praised Yap for clearing the way for American beef and beef products meant for the Philippine market in compliance with international trade standards.

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PROJECTIONS: The World Bank predicts a growth of 6.7 percent for the Philippines, its highest projection among the four largest economies in Southeast Asia — Indonesia (6.3 percent), Malaysia (5.7 percent) and Thailand (4.3 percent).

The Asian Development Bank has revised its 2007 growth estimate for the Philippine economy from 5.8 percent to 7 percent. The International Monetary Fund also raised its projections from 6.34 to 6.7 percent.

Even private banking giant Citigroup Inc. has projected a higher expansion of 7.1 percent for the Philippine economy in 2007.

Sen. Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Senate agriculture committee and a former DA secretary and lead author of the Agricultural and Fisheries Modernization law, lauded Yap for containing the spread of the Brontispa pest and, later, for the successful agricultural trade and investment mission to Spain.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, author of the Biofuels Act, and Rep. Abraham Mitra, chairman of the House food and agriculture committee, also commended Yap for bringing investments into the emerging biofuels sector.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 8, 2008)

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