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Balance needed between rice and high-value crops

If we are to succeed in agriculture, food security and our farmers’ welfare, we have to correct the imbalance on budget support between rice and high-value crops (HVC).

The Department of Agriculture (DA) defines HVC as “crops that have competitive returns on investments vis-a-vis alternative investment opportunities.” With the current pandemic, it is imperative that we use scarce government resources in the most effective way. To do this, we must know how much support is given to rice versus HVCs.

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For 2020, rice got budget support of at least P62 billion (P7 billion for the rice banner program, P25 billion for additional support, and at least P30 billion for irrigation). HVCs received less than P3 billion. Comparing the net returns, as well as profit-to-cost ratios, of rice versus HVCs, it is clear that the DA and our legislators should give HVCs a much lar­ger budget. Using data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the majority of rice farmers get a net return per hectare of P16,832, with a net profit-to-cost ratio of 0.40. These are far below those of HVCs.

Recorded in ikot.ph is the following HVC information on these same parameters:

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“Every year, the DA gathers information on revenues and costs for farm products. The PSA then compiles all the information gathered. PSA calculates the average income and costs per hectare of growing the product.”

When we interviewed Agriculture Undersecretary for HVCs Evelyn Laviña why there was such a big budget imbalance between rice and HVCs, she replied that rice was a political commodity. Laviña said: “During this pandemic, we realize how important it is to have nutritious food, when imports from other countries are unsure because of their own lockdowns. Therefore, planting HVCs for self-sufficiency and even in our own backyards (like vegetables and root crops) needs a much larger budget for information, extension and implementation.” I can speak from my own experience with sweet potato (kamote), where the average yield was 3.5 tons per hectare.

Hardly known was that the Visayas University State College of Agriculture had developed a sweet potato variety with a yield of 25 tons a hec­tare, seven times the national average at almost no additio­nal cost. Using this variety, I got an average yield of 30 tons in the hectares I planted (or 9 times the average yield). Up to now, because of the HVC limited budget, this variety is not widely known to the public.

Today, there are thousands of hectares not suitable for rice (including uplands) where no profitable crops are grown. The Kapampangan Development Foundation (KDF), with chair Manuel Pangilinan and president Benigno Ricafort, succeeded in putting up the only two hospitals in the world which provide completely free services to people with disabilities (PWDs).

With this success, KDF embarked on a livelihood program that focuses only on HVCs.

This involves coconut intercropped with other HVCs. Public-private teamwork is done with government agencies such as the DA and the Philippine Coconut Authority, as well as private sector groups like Alyansa Agrikultura, the Coalition for Agriculture Mechanization in the Philippines, and Rotary.

An example is Rolan Mayo, a PWD who manages his one-hectare farm from a wheelchair in Tarlac. He has planted hybrid coconut trees, which have five times the yield and half the growing time of traditional coconuts. In his very first year, while waiting for his coconut trees to grow, he has already made P800,000 from his intercropped HVC bananas.

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Mayo is only one of the 100 KDF model one-hectare farms which demonstrate how HVCs can provide higher incomes for farmers, while providing free guidance for neighboring farmers interested in HVCs.

Our government should promote HVCs with a much larger budget. Countries like Thailand have done this. From being behind, they are now far ahead of us. It is imperative that DA and our legislators now provide a better balance the very large rice budget and the very small (5 percent of rice) HVC budget. INQ

The author is Agriwatch chair, former Secretary of Presidential Programs and Projects and former undersecretary of Agriculture and Trade and Industry. Contact him via [email protected]

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TAGS: Department of Agriculture (DA), high-value crops (HVC), rice
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