Blames Aquino Administration for poverty, lack of results
Incoming Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol sharply criticized the Department of Agriculture (DA) under outgoing President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd for persistent poverty among families in the agriculture and fisheries sector, as he laid out a program to improve the performance of the agriculture department in the first 100 days of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s term.
In a statement issued at the conclusion of a nationwide tour dubbed “Biyaheng Bukid,” Piñol said the current DA had “lost focus” and wasted money on ineffective programs, resulting in persistent poverty in the agriculture and fisheries sectors.
“There is so much potential in both fields but the DA has lost focus spending huge government resources on programs which are not essential to food production,” he said.
“There is so much idle land and so much water flowing through the rivers. In fact, we have 247 large rivers which could be used for water supply.”
The incoming DA chief also blamed the flawed agricultural statistics gathering and lack of research and development in the fisheries sector, which he said is vital to effect planning.
“So much money is wasted on trainings with virtually no results. Technology transfer and information dissemination, especially farmers’ access to vital data, are markedly poor,” he said.
Piñol added that there is a disconnect between agencies directly or indirectly involved in food security, such as the DA and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in relation to the identification of watershed areas for protection to ensure sustainable agriculture and mining permits in areas where agriculture could be affected.
“Inter-agency connectivity between the DA and the Bureau of Customs will also be established during the first 100 days of President Duterte to ensure that the smuggling of rice, meat products and other agricultural products like onion, garlic and even ginger will stop,” he said.
Piñol acknowledged that outgoing Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala had made gains toward the country’s elusive goal of achieving rice self-sufficiency, raising the sufficiency level from 82 percent in 2010 to 97 percent last year.
Given the upward trend in rice production, Piñol said that rice self-sufficiency could be achieved in two to three years.
But he said that the government should implement massive interventions, including the repair and rehabilitation of existing irrigation facilities; the use of water pumps in areas with shallow water levels; support of high-yielding seeds, fertilizers, and farm inputs for the next two cropping seasons; and identification of key rice production areas where water is readily available.
Piñol also suggested he would expand crop diversification to generate jobs and much-needed export revenue.
“There is great potential for high value crops, especially in coconut production areas where these could be intercropped with coffee, cacao, and abaca. The country could be self-sufficient with beef, pork, and chicken but there has to be massive development in the farming sector to produce feed materials like corn, soya and even malunggay,” he said.
“With support from government, the country’s high value crops sector could bring in much-needed foreign exchange and create jobs in the countryside,” he added.
First 100 days
In terms of specific initiatives to be pursued immediately, Piñol laid out a program focusing on improved information-gathering and urgent measures to relieve poverty.
Piñol said that he plans to launch the national agricultural mapping project, or what Duterte called the Color-coded Agriculture Guide Map, to determine which crops or agricultural activity would be best in specific areas based on geographic, climatic, and soil conditions.
Over the next 100 days, he also plans to conduct the National Food Consumption Quantification Survey, which would determine the kind and volume of food commodities consumed by Filipinos.
“This would also project the food consumption of the country in relation to population growth,” he said.
There will also be a nationwide inspection of irrigation services, dredging of silted dams and provision of shallow tube wells to ensure sufficient supply of water for the next rice planting season; and support in the form of seeds, fertilizers, and other farm inputs for two planting seasons as a form of calamity assistance.
In terms of poverty relief efforts, the former North Cotabato governor is also pushing for cash for work program for farmers and fishermen affected by El Niño. The work would include manual repair and rehabilitation of irrigation facilities for farmers, and cleaning of coastal waters and planting of mangrove trees for fisherfolk.
Piñol also said that nationwide face-face interactions between the DA secretary and stakeholders in the agriculture and fishery sectors would be held to address their concerns.
Another special project, the Bantay Dagat, will engage Badjaos in cleaning the waters of coastal communities, Piñol said.
A special project titled “Pagkain Para sa Masa” will be launched in Metro Manila to establish arrozcaldo feeding stations to ensure that the street dwellers and the homeless will not go to sleep on an empty stomach. This project will be implemented jointly with the Dept. of Health, Dept. of Social Welfare and Development and the LGUs in Metro Manila.
“Pagkain Para sa Masa will serve as the first step towards ensuring that the street dwellers, urban poor, and the homeless will be identified and later trained for vegetable growing using the Israel Gr een House technology,” he said.
In cooperation and coordination with the DOH, DSWD, and Dept. of Education, the DA will also spearhead the launching of a community-based milk-feeding program in areas where farmers are involved in dairy production.
In preparation for La Niña, which is expected to hit the country by November or December 2016, the incoming DA secretary has directed the Philippine Crop Insurance Corp. to extend coverage to farmers in high-risk areas. The National Food Authority (NFA) will also be directed to pre-position sufficient rice and food supplies in areas expected to be affected by La Niña, Piñol added.