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Business

Improved harvest part of Department of Agriculture’s bucket list for 2019

Louise Maureen Simeon - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Agriculture has laid down its bucket list for the new year to ensure continued growth of the sector.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said farm-to-market roads (FMR), small water irrigation systems, post-harvest facilities, logistics and transport facilities, and easy access credit are the five major projects needed to improve food production and reduce poverty.

“The announcement by the economic managers that the 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 a bigger budget allocation,” Piñol said.

Piñol said FMRs must be included as a component of the government’s Build Build Build program as the country has a backlog of about 13,000 kilometers of rural roads which may link food production areas to the market.

“FMRs are critical to greater food production and reduction on the prices of agricultural commodities. With the piecemeal funding given by government for the FMR, it would take 12 years before all the food production areas would have access roads to the market,” he said.

Another project is the small water irrigation systems, specifically solar-powered irrigation, which need a budget of P44 billion over the next three years to increase rice production by three million metric tons, enough to cover the country’s rice shortfall.

“Small irrigation system, instead of big dams, is the way to go because it is faster to construct, the cost is lower and it can cover small production areas that can not be served  by the big irrigation projects,” Piñol said.

The country needs to irrigate 80,000 hectares every year to be able to plant rice. However, the government  can only irrigate up to 40,000 hectares annually.

The development of post-harvest facilities for the fisheries sector is also needed as the country loses 40 percent of its fish catch because of the lack of ice-making and cold storage facilities.

Piñol said more investments for bigger cold storage facilities, especially in the major fishing grounds of Infanta, Quezon, Samar, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi are needed.

The agri chief added that government must also invest in logistics and transport facilities if it wants to bring more food to Metro Manila and big city markets which may be sold at a lower price.

“The high transport cost of food products from the islands to Metro Manila pushes prices up. 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,” he said.

According to the DA, the lack of credit access by poor farmers is the biggest stumbling block to agricultural productivity.

Credit access by farmers has been low in spite of the Agri-Agra Law, which compels banks to lend to the agriculture and fisheries sectors.

“With government funding focused on these five major impact projects, agriculture will certainly grow by leaps and bounds,” Piñol said.

“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,” he added.

DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE EMMANUEL PIñOL
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