• DA targets growth beneficial to small farmers

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    The government is working to achieve agricultural growth that benefits smallholder farmers and fishermen, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said on Thursday.

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    In an open plenary of the Grow Asia Agriculture Forum at the New World Hotel in Makati, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said that critical to boosting food production to meet the requirements of a growing population—in the Philippines and the rest of the world—is the support of agriculture-fishery stakeholders themselves, along with the private sector.

    “While we are pleased with the achievement of record production in our food staples in the last three years, it is our paramount concern that our farmers and fishermen benefit from this growth,” Alcala said.

    “This is a sentiment we strongly share and a desired scenario for which we wish to strengthen our partnerships in the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and with partners in the world,” he added.

    Alcala, however, said that there is still a greater need for multi-stakeholder partnerships across the region to advance “sustainable and inclusive agricultural growth.”

    “Governments alone cannot grow Asia agriculture; you are the main players, governments take the support role in this big project,” he told an audience composed of Asian business and government leaders.

    Citing the country’s best practices, he mentioned the successful implementation of the Sikat Saka farm credit initiative of the Land Bank of the Philippines, and the use of geo-tagging technology by the DA-Mindanao Rural Development Program to ensure transparency in monitoring its projects in Mindanao.

    Under the Aquino Administration, harvest of the country’s main staple food reached record levels, boosting sufficiency to 96 percent by the end of 2013 from 82 percent in 2010.

    Filipino rice farmers produced 18.44 million tons of rice in 2013, up by 2.3 percent from the previous year, attributed to wider irrigation coverage and increased farmers’ adoption of certified and hybrid seeds. In the first three months of 2014, rice output expanded by 3.28 percent or 4.3 million metric tons from the 4.17 million metric tons during the same period last year.

    Aside from rice, the Philippines is also pushing to achieve full sufficiency in corn, in which it is nearly self-sufficient, and other food staples such as root crops and plantain.

    Farmers and fishermen have also been enjoying better profits as farm gate prices and overall output value increased. During the first quarter of the year, Philippine agriculture grossed P386.6 billion at current prices—or up by 10.75 percent—from the same period last year, based on a Philippine Statistical Authority report.

    While the growth translated to a 0.67 percent expansion in volume, farmers and fishermen reaped higher profits as farm gate prices increased by an average of 10.01 percent during the period.

    The Philippines also managed to trim its agricultural trade deficit by 60.5 percent in the first three quarters of last year, as compared to the same period in 2012. From January to September 2013, agricultural exports surged by 28 percent while imports fell by 7.2 percent, resulting in $1.5 billion in foreign exchange savings.

    During that period, Alcala said that the country made several “firsts” in agricultural trade: first-ever export of corn silage to South Korea; premium rice varieties to Dubai, Hong Kong and other markets; and Peking duck to Japan.

    Last month, the country shipped out several tons of “halal-certified” beef to Brunei. More poultry exports are also expected with the go-signal given by the South Korean quarantine office for Filipino fresh frozen chicken exports.

    Grow Asia, held for the first time as part of the World Economic Forum that runs from May 21 to May 23 at nearby Shangri-La Hotel Makati, has posed a challenge to all participants: growing enough food for everyone in spite of climate change and water challenges, while ensuring that food producers get their fair share of agriculture growth.

    As envisioned, Grow Asia hopes to be a platform where partnerships between stakeholders can be forged and solutions to challenges to agriculture can be crafted.

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