THE government is working to empower local farmers and improve their income generation capability in anticipation of increased regional competition under the Asean Economic Community (AEC) which takes effect next year.
According to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, the government is taking steps to improve its programs to further capacitate farmers to be more productive ahead of the Asean economic integration.
“We just want our farmers get the most out of their efforts. We want them to be empowered. And we need to address the needs of the domestic market,” Alcala said.
Alcala was speaking at the 6th anniversary of the Cordillera Highland Agricultural Resource Management (CHARM) Project and International Year of Family Farming Knowledge and Learning Market and Policy Engagement (KLM-PE) in Baguio City.
The DA chief explained that the department has crafted development roadmaps for each of the major agricultural commodities of the country, and meeting the demands of the AEC is only one of its objectives.
The primary aim of these roadmaps is to improve farmers’ yields to meet food security targets and increase farmers’ income, he said.
Along with the programs in place and in the pipeline, Alcala stressed that the agriculture sector should focus on certain products as a strategy to initially develop good branding in the regional market.
He stressed that the Philippines cannot compete in all commodities so the agriculture sector should focus on what the country is good at.
He said the country has lots of opportunities like the Charm project, which can help farmers to become better prepared for the AEC aside from increasing their productivity.
As the Charm project will end next year, Alcala said that farmers in the Cordilleras can tap the Philippine Rural Development Program (PRDP) to sustain the successes of the Charm project.
“The Charm is good but the PRDP is even better. It will be all based on value-chain analysis. And since we do not stop at production, we can allocate funds for farm-to-market roads to ensure that farmers have access to the market,” Alcala said.
Alcala proposed that champion crops should be identified for mountainous areas like the Cordilleras. He said that the DA is now conducting a study on the marketability of chayote as an extender in the Middle East, and finalizing production plans for chop suey in tetra packs which can be used as a healthier option for relief operations during disasters.
Heirloom rice produced in the highlands is also eyed, and to further support this commodity, the DA has already started implementing tramline projects.
Interested local government units can propose putting up agricultural tramlines but the DA has to validate the areas for feasibility.
Alcala encouraged the attendees to replicate good practices under the Charm project, such as participatory approaches, in other succeeding projects.
“We should take advantage of projects that we have to empower ourselves—we have to encourage farmers to be ready to accept change. And regarding Asean, we should see the integration as a stimulus for us to improve our production also for our domestic supply and to have quality products for our own consumption,” Alcala emphasized.
He noted that one of the sectors now ready for the Asean economic integration is the agribusiness sector, citing the massive increase in investments on farm mechanization, irrigation and financing.
He, however, stressed that the agribusiness enterprises should also check the quality of their products, not just the quantity, as the international market has higher quality standards especially for food products.
Alcala also assured that when it comes to livestock and poultry, the country enjoys an edge over its Asean neighbors. “Our livestock are bird flu-free and foot-and-mouth disease (FMD)-free. We indeed have the advantage,” he said.
The Philippine government is also positioning corn to be one of its major exports to the Southeast Asian region within the next three years.
Alcala said they are investing heavily on infrastructure and more post-harvest facilities to prepare the corn industry for trade liberalization.
The Philippines is a signatory to the Asean Free Trade Agreement, which will take full effect in 2015. The agreement aims to bring down to zero the duties on products coming from Asean countries.