The Philippines is expected to reach food sufficiency this year and will focus on further farm reforms to boost agribusiness and agritourism, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
This will not only create value-added output for the domestic economy but would make economic expansion more “inclusive” in the sense that farmers would be able to earn beyond merely selling fresh produce, he said at a roundtable discussion with the Inquirer.
The Department of Agriculture was anticipating a new record rice harvest this year of about 20 million tons from the record 18.3 million tons output in 2012, Alcala said.
The country is 97 to 98 percent self-sufficient in palay. However, since food sufficiency involves other farm products, Alcala said expansion was also expected from a range of subsectors from corn to coconut.
Among the reforms already underway was with the National Food Authority, which is increasingly stocking up in terms of palay or rough rice (which can be stores for longer periods) rather than white or milled rice. It is also importing less, estimated at only 187,000 tons this year (for buffer stock only) from the record 2.4 million tons in 2010. Rice imports were seen to decrease and the Philippines could even export specialty rice this year, Alcala said.
The agriculture chief also highlighted reforms in the coconut sector, where a quedan system has been proposed for implementation so that farmers could choose to participate in value-added production from coco sugar to cocobiodiesel through cooperative- and joint venture-type arrangements.
The controversial coco levy fund, which is estimated to yield P3 billion to P4 billion in interest a year, could be tapped to institute reforms once made accessible to the Philippine Coconut Authority, Alcala said.
Another innovation is the Sikat Saka program, introduced at the start of the Aquino administration, which paved the way for a P400-million loan facility of the state-owned Land Bank of the Philippines for rice propagation. The program, which enables individual farmers to borrow funds using an ATM card, was launched in four provinces and will be expanded to cover all of the top 20 rice-producing areas all over the Philippines.
Beyond reforms, the DA is also encouraging foreign and domestic investors, as well as OFWs, to invest in farm production, postharvest facilities and processing, Alcala said.
Anticipating the impact of Asean economic integration by 2015 on local rice production and trade, the DA is also spending P26 million on a baseline study on the Philippines’ rice sector in comparison with those of other rice-producing countries.
The DA is also proposing a medium-term nationwide rural development program, called the Philippine Rural Development Program, which will initially cover six regions (4A, 4B, 5, 6, 7 and 8) in Luzon and Visayas and all provinces covered under the current Mindanao Rural Development Program Phase 2.
In 2011, farm output grew 2.34 percent or lower than the revised 3 to 3.5 percent projected by the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics.
Philippine agriculture comprised only 11.89 percent of economic expansion (measured in terms of gross domestic product) last year though it is the biggest employer in the country. Including agribusiness, the sector’s contribution is estimated at 30 to 35 percent.