PH agribusiness ready for AEC in 2015 – Alcala

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Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Proceso Alcala said the government has come up with a roadmap to prepare the agribusiness sector for the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015.

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Speaking at the Local Government Academy-organized forum “Asean Economic Integration: The Role of Local Governments,” Alcala said: “We will continue to invest heavily in farm mechanization, irrigation and financing to strengthen our capacity to compete in the Asean region.”

The DA chief, however, admitted that access to credit by farmers is still limited, “that is why DA is encouraging farmers to avail of the services of the Sikat Saka.”

Sikat Saka is a credit assistance program of the agriculture department and the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP), which provides crop insurance as an automatic value-added service, along with assured market and financial mentoring.

On irrigation, Alcala added that the DA has already developed a blueprint to gradually reduce irrigation fees down to zero.

The agriculture chief also stressed that the Philippine Rural Development Program (PRDP) has been approved in time for the Asean economic integration.

“This is a comprehensive program that would fully prepare the Philippines to become competitive along with other Asean markets. Local governments can maximize their agribusiness potentials with the PRDP as it covers activities from planting to processing to marketing. Also, we can strengthen smallholder farmers through the PRDP in preparation for the Asean integration,” Alcala said.

Along with the programs in place and in the pipeline, Alcala stressed that the agribusiness sector should focus on certain products as a strategy to initially develop good branding in the regional market.

“Let’s identify crops that we have the advantage of. We should only focus for now on what we are good at,” Alcala said.

He added that agribusiness enterprises should check the quality of their products, not just the quantity, as the international market demands more quality products, especially if they are food Items.

“We should not fear what could happen. Other countries are also afraid because of the Philippines’ economic strength,” he said.

Alcala also said that when it comes to livestock, the country has an edge: “Our livestock are bird flu-free and foot and mouth disease (FMD)-free. We indeed have the advantage,” he said.

To spur further growth in the livestock industry, Alcala suggested that LGUs (local government units) initially invest in facilities like halal (allowed or permitted under Islamic dietary guidelines) dressing plants to cater to the Muslim market in the region.

Alcala emphasized that the national government or the DA alone cannot prepare the country to become competitive in the AEC. “Forums like this between LGUs and national government agencies will help us prepare the right strategies,” he said.

He added that regular programs of the DA can be complemented by LGU projects and those availed under the Grassroots Participatory Budgeting Process (GPBP), adding that LGUs and national government agencies should work together to identify and prioritize what are needed most to further develop the agribusiness sector.

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