THE Duterte administration should diversify Northern Luzon’s agriculture by sustainably producing more com-modities and processed products for both local and export markets, a volunteer agri-fishery socio-civic organization said.
Former Agriculture Secretary William Dar said, who is also the founding president of InangLupa Movement, Inc., said harnessing the potential of Northern Luzon’s farming and fisheries industries would help bring millions of people out of poverty.
Dar said the four regions in Northern Luzon remain poverty-stricken despite being the leading food basket in the country.
“Poverty incidence in north Luzon remains high. This is the stark reality despite North Luzon being the country’s major producer of rice, corn, bangus (milkfish), and vegetables,” Dar said at the 25th North Luzon Area Business Conference in Tuguegarao City.
“There is big hope, however, under the Duterte administration, to further develop and modernize the agriculture and fishery industry in Northern Luzon and subsequently lift majority of farm families” out of poverty, said Dar, who hails from Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur.
Among the measures he proposed were to shift from mono-cropping to diversification and multiple cropping; intensify production and mechanization in irrigated rice areas to reduce production costs; and transform less productive upland and rain-fed lowland areas into farms that will produce high-value vegetables, fruits, ornamentals, coffee, oil palm, rubber, cacao and hybrid coconuts.
“This initiative would create more livelihood and employment opportunities, increasing the incomes of farm families, and lifting most of them from poverty,” he added.
“Farm consolidation or clustering is a good mechanism to achieve commercial scale and productivity,” Dar noted.
In fisheries, he said marine cage culture for high-value fish can be expanded beyond milkfish in western Pangasinan.
Farm diversification should also be complemented by investments in infrastructure and transportation, he said.
“Agriculture, rural infrastructure and markets are key to unleash the potentials of northern Luzon and the country in general,” said Dar.
“These include irrigation, post-harvest and agri-processing centers, storage and warehousing facilities, farm-to-market roads, modern highways, airports and seaports, and local and export wholesale market center,” he added.
He said transportation and movement of farm products to local and export markets are getting better and faster with the extension of the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) to Pangasinan via La Union through the Tarlac–Pangasinan–La Union Expressway (TPLEx), while Clark International Airport is getting busier, augmenting the Laoag International Airport.
In Cagayan Valley, the Tuguegarao airport and Sta. Ana Port could be enhanced and turned into an international airport and seaport, respectively, Dar added.
He also said the old train system from Manila to La Union should be revived and modernized, and that a new train system around Northern Luzon should be considered to connect major farm and fishery center with the major air and seaports and market centers.
Dar said that about one-fifth of the population of Northern Luzon —comprised of the Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), and the northern portion of provinces in Central Luzon—are mostly poor farm families.
Of these four regions, CAR had a poverty incidence of 26.7 percent in 2015; Ilocos, 21.7 percent; Cagayan Valley, 21.5 percent; and Central Luzon, 15.8 percent.