Among the many crops that are cultivated in the Philippines, corn ranks second to rice in importance. This is because corn is grown primarily as feed for livestock and poultry, although the government is currently pushing white corn as a replacement for rice in communities where it is hard to grow palay (unmilled rice).
Corn production is also on an upswing.
In the first nine months of 2013, domestic corn production rose to 5.92 million metric tons (MT), up by 0.40 percent year-on-year on improved harvest in Northern Mindanao, Soccksargen and Western Visayas.
Production in 2013 is expected to reach 8.2 million MT, up 10 percent from 7.41 million MT in 2012.
As local corn production grows, the government sees its huge potential in the international market.
Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala even said last week that while local corn production is enough to meet the demand of hog growers and poultry raisers, the government is pushing for corn to be the main crop that can be traded internationally when Southeast Asian economies integrate by 2015.
The good news is Malaysia continues to import large quantities of corn from the United States, while Indonesia needs to supplement its local stocks. At present, the country is exporting only corn silage to South Korea.
The potential bonanza for Philippine-grown corn in the Southeast Asian region come 2015 cannot be overlooked, which means government and the private sector must work hand-in-hand in raising the quality and quantity of domestic corn.
This early, the Department of Agriculture (DA) is eyeing the expansion of corn areas to make the industry more competitive by 2015. Initially, the DA has identified some 300,000 hectares of coconut areas that could be intercropped with corn.
Alcala also said that in 2014, the DA will invest heavily on infrastructure and more post-harvest facilities to prepare the corn industry for trade liberalization.
Over the past years, efforts from the private sector, primarily seed companies, and the government through the DA has resulted in farmers adopting better farming practices that helped push national corn yield.
The improving competitiveness of the domestic corn industry shows that adequate government support, participation by the private sector, and confidence on the small Filipino farmer can produce a commodity that has a huge export potential.
Corn is also a more a viable crop to grow in the face of climate change threats, because it can withstand storms better compared to rice, and needs less water to cultivate.
However, once the Philippines starts exporting corn, the government through the DA must make sure that the small farmers reap much of the financial benefits.
For sure, corn farmers do not want to end up like coconut farmers, who are regarded as the poorest lot in the country’s agriculture sector despite coconut products being the country’s leading farm export.
That can be avoided if the government helps farmers put up their own storage facilities, and help farmer organizations bag deals directly from abroad at viable prices.
If small corn farmers gain the most from selling their produce abroad, that would be one big step in helping eradicate poverty in the countryside.