Expect a paradigm shift in many of the programs and priorities of the Department of Agriculture (DA) under the Duterte administration, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said.
The department is taking on the challenge to address the impact of climate change, which in the past distorted prices and supply chains that sparked social unrest, Piñol said.
The DA has adopted a policy of striving for food sufficiency, particularly in staple food such as rice and white corn, as well as meat, poultry, fish, and marine products.
“El Niño, La Niña and Climate Change are realities this country must face and challenges that we all must be prepared for. Or else, we face the grim scenario of food riots in this country,” the DA chief said, referring to deadly rally of farmers’ in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato.
Piñol blamed the previous government’s failure to layout plans and ensure that there would be sufficient food supply for the farmers during the months when water would be scarce and the soil dry.
Warnings issued by PAGASA as early as two years ago heralded the El Niño would affect vast agriculture areas in the country.
“The 6-month long drought provides us with a graphic picture of the dire consequences that this country faces if it fails to prepare for natural calamities and climatic changes,” he Piñol.
Importation not an option
“The question that hangs over our heads now is: Where would we source our imported food if, God forbid, El Niño or La Niña would ravage all of East Asia and Southeast Asia? Where would we get our imported rice if suddenly the mighty Mekong River overflows its banks and destroys the rice crops of our traditional rice suppliers?” he said.
For Philippine agriculture to be sustainable and climate change-resilient, the Cabinet official said trees must be planted in denuded mountains and water flowing freely to the ocean must be managed and conserved in dams, small impoundings, and catchment basins.
“There will be a shift in the irrigation mindset. This administration will focus more on small and community-based irrigation projects over the highly-destructive, expensive, and long-gestating mega-irrigation projects which cost billions of pesos,” Piñol said.
The DA will also introduce solar-powered irrigation facilities, especially in remote villages which are not connected to the grid. The water is not only for rice fields but also vegetable gardens and for drinking purposes.
“The idea of using solar-powered irrigation facilities dawned upon me when I visited a Tilapia fishpond owned and managed by a Filipino-American in the middle of the desert in Southern California,” the Cabinet official noted.
Three prototypes of this concept in agricultural irrigation will be built in three pilot areas in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
Rice and other food staples
Piñol said he designed the Rice Productivity Enhancement (RIPE) program, which calls for a thorough review of the country’s water management and irrigation policies, a nation-wide soil analysis, an extensive program to improve rice farming technology, the introduction of high-yielding rice varieties, an effective soil rehabilitation and fertilizer program, and a modern harvest and post-harvest facilities to minimize losses.
He also pushing for a viable program to produce more white corn for the corn-eating provinces of Negros Oriental, Siquijor, Bohol, Cebu, Biliran, Leyte, Southern Leyte, the three provinces of Samar, and Northern Mindanao.
For livestock and poultry, the official aims to develop a feed components supply chain to the dependence on imported materials, like soya and even fishmeal to ensure that the cost of production would be lower.
Piñol tasked the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to implement a nation-wide program against illegal fishing and a three-month fishing ban during the spawning period of distinct fish species in different parts of the country.
A nation-wide search for the cleanest coastal communities will also be launched this year using the following criteria: 1) absence of illegal fishing; 2) observance of closed season; 3) well-protected marine sanctuary; 4) garbage-free coastal waters; and 5) sustained mangrove protection and rehabilitation program.
“Winning coastal communities will be given Presidential Awards and livelihood funds amounting to P10 million,” Piñol said.
Funding and support for the culture and production of high-value species like Lapu-lapu and Maya-Maya, and commercial species like Bangus and Tilapia, shrimps, crabs, and other marine products will also be intensified.
Piñol said that he also designed a concept in Family-Based Agro-Forestry Program anchored mainly on the idea of stakeholder-ship where an upland family is designated as the caretaker of an area planted to harvestable tree species to make the program sustainable.
Under the “Vegetable Gardens in the City,” urban poor families will be involved through the support of the city governments, as partners of the DA.
Backyard vegetable gardening will be encouraged in the rural and urban areas with the DA providing technical, financial, and marketing support.
“The DA has already allocated P75 million for this program this year and initially the cities of Taguig, Manila and Quezon City will be the first target areas for this program,” he said.