Tuesday Nov, 19 2019 08:32:13 AM

5 high impact projects for agri-fisheries growth

AGRICULTURE • 02:36 AM Wed Jan 2, 2019
Manny Pinol
Marine products lilke this need cold storage. DA is acting on it. (DA photo)

The announcement by the Economic Managers that government will now focus on Agriculture which they said dragged down economic growth is a breath of fresh air for the sector which has long been asking for bigger budget allocation.Without even retrieving documents and recommendations submitted by the Department of Agriculture in the past, I have listed here five major projects to improve food production and reduce poverty in the countryside.1. Farm to Market Roads - The country has a backlog of about 13,000 kilometers of rural roads which could link food production areas to the market.FMRs are critical to greater food production and reduction on the prices of agricultural commodities.When I was Governor of North Cotabato, I saw how the lives of people in the countryside changed when roads were opened.The FMRs must be included as a vital component of the Build, Build, Build Program of government.With the piecemeal funding given by government for the Farm to Market Road Program, it would take 12 years before all the food production areas would have access roads to the market.2. Small Water Irrigation Systems, specifically the Solar-Powered Irrigation System - There could be no agriculture without water.The country needs to irrigate 80,000 hectares every year to be able to plant rice to feed the growing population. Unfortunately, government could only irrigate up to 40,000 hectares every year.Of the 3.9-million hectares of rice farms in the country, only 1.2-million is served by irrigation facilities, leaving 2.7-million hectares dependent on rainfall.Small Irrigation System, instead of big dams, is the way to go because it is faster to construct, the cost is lower and it could cover small production areas that could not be served the big irrigation projects.The DA Bureau of Soil and Water Management and the Bureau of Agricuture and Fisheries Engineering have perfected the Solar-Powered Irrigation System.With a budget of P44-B over the next three years, a total of 500,000 hectares could be irrigated which could increase rice production by 3-million metric tons, enough to cover the country's shortfall.3. Post-Harvest Facilities for Fisheries - In spite of the data provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that the country loses 40% of its fish catch because of the lack of ice-making and cold storage facilities, previous administrations made little investments on Fisheries Post-Harvest Facilities.Under the administration of President Rody Duterte, the DA, through its credit agency, the Agricultural Credit Policy Council, established the Agricultural and Fisheries Machinery and Equipment Loaning Program.This program did not happen easily because of oppositions to the idea of lending money to farmers and fishermen without collaterals at low interest.By the First Quarter of 2019, at least 100 fishing communities all over the country will have Ice-Making Facilities, Cold Storage and Refrigerated trucks which the fishermen will acquire through the AFME loaning program at 2% per year.More investments by government for bigger cold storage facilities, especially in the major fishing grounds like Infanta, Quezon, Samar, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawitawi are needed.4. Logistics and Transport Facilities - In the 2019 Budget, the DA-BFAR proposed a P500-million budget to buy two medium-sized locally-made cargo vessels, proposed to be called the Food Boats intended to facilitate the transport of agriculture and fisheries products from distant areas of the country to the population centers.The proposal was made based on the very basic problem of high transport cost of food products from the islands to Metro Manila thus pushing prices up.As of today, it is more expensive to ship bananas from Davao to Manila than shipping from Davao to Japan.The problem in this country is not the lack of food but the poor positioning of food as a result of expensive freight and handling.Sadly, the Food Boat Program did not get funding in the 2019 Budget.Government must invest in this area if it wants to bring more food to the Metro Manila and big city markets which could be sold at lower price.5. Easy Access Credit for Food and Agricultural Production - The lack of credit access by poor farmers and fishermen is the biggest stumbling block in agricultural productivity.In spite of the Agri-Agra Law which compels banks to lend to the Agriculture and Fisheries Sector, credit access by farmers and fishermen has been very low.The DA-ACPC under the Duterte Administration has implemented easy access loaning programs now acknowledged by the Philippine Statistics Authority as major contributors to greater productivity and reduction of poverty.With an initial loan fund of P1.4-B, the ACPC has reported a repayment rate of 97% while higher production figures have been reported.Encouraged by the success stories, the Duterte Administration through the Department of Budget and Management increased the credit fund to P3.4-B for 2019.It should be noted that the five areas do not include rice production because this is expected to be adequately covered by the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) and the Coconut Industry because of the expected approval of the Coco Levy Utilization Act.All other areas could be covered by existing DA programs and funding support.With government funding focused on these five major impact projects, Agriculture will certainly grow by leaps and bounds.The positive effects and contributions to the economy will be felt towards the last years of the Duterte Administration but these programs will certainly build the foundations of a sustainable and resilient Agriculture and Fisheries in the country.

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