DA banks on rural development program

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THE Department of Agriculture (DA) is now banking on various interventions and its flagship rural development program to sustain massive growth in the farm sector, which is now threatened by a prolonged dry spell.

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“Agriculture remains the backbone of Philippine economy, being a major source of income and livelihood opportunities in the countryside,” Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said.

The department aims to speed up the expansion in support of all the stakeholders, notably the small farmers, through better governance and continued investments in postharvest facilities and other key infrastructure, the Cabinet official said.

The DA chief issued the statement in light of recent reports that the agriculture sector grew by less than two percent in the first three months of 2015.

“The challenge now is for the Department of Agriculture to sustain the growth momentum amid weather-related risks and other challenges,” Alcala said.

To mitigate the effects of drought, Alcala noted the trading centers now being established in strategic areas nationwide to give food producers a direct link to markets, including the soon-to-be completed Benguet Agri-Pinoy Trading Center (BAPTC) in La Trinidad. Set to become the biggest in the Philippines, the P655-million facility will include trading spaces and a processing center for highland vegetables such as carrots, lettuce and broccoli.

Alcala visited BAPTC last week – his second in two weeks – to observe the dry run operations and to meet and consult the farmer participants from Benguet and nearby areas. The department is targeting to open the facility before the end of June.

The DA is now implementing the six-year Philippine Rural Development Project, according to the Agriculture chief. The PRDP allows the DA to take in local government units and the private sector as partners in providing key infrastructure, facilities, technology, and information to raise incomes, productivity, and competitiveness in the countryside.

About 67 percent of the P27.5 billion PRDP was earmarked for of LGU infrastructure projects such as farm-to-market roads, bridges, communal irrigation, potable water systems, post-harvest and storage facilities, trading posts, fish landing facilities and solar driers.

“These infrastructure and production assistance will help food producers move from subsistence agriculture to surplus production,” Alcala said.

On Friday, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported the agri-fishery sector grew by 1.78 percent to P380.1 billion in the first quarter, bolstered by increased harvest of corn and palay.

Corn surpassed its production levels by 3.97 percent on-year, and palay by 1.41 percent, largely on the expansion in harvest areas and improvements in the yield of irrigated palay and yellow corn fields.

The livestock subsector grew by 3.23 percent, and poultry by 5.42 percent. But the fisheries subsector posted a decline due to a decline in catch during the first three months of the year.

However, the DA-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources sees a strong recovery when the impact of intervention measures takes effect.

Among the measures are the planned fishing ban for round scad in northern Palawan, which the DA-BFAR expects to carry out before the year-end once the study on its impact on fish spawning and economic activity in the province is complete.

BFAR National Director Asis Perez noted the DA-BFAR is helping to expand aqua farms for vannamei or white-leg shrimp, eel and seaweeds.

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