Q1 GDP: Agri sector remained stagnant

Today, we are complaining about the long dry spell and its consequential challenges. As if we aren’t aware that it will certainly come.  Frankly, we are always well informed about calamities way ahead of time.  Actually, we can’t blame the government for the lack of it. The problem really is our capabilities of cushioning the impact of these calamities. In typhoons and droughts, for instance, we know how devastating these are. Yet, it seems that we are too helpless.  More often, we can only hope and pray that typhoons will be weaker and droughts will be shorter.

To recall, in May, last year, PAGASA issued an “El Niño alert” saying that “the weather phenomenon might emerge between June and July at 80 percent probability and might persist until the first quarter of 2024.” It seems, however, that the drought last year wasn’t worse as expected and we were able to weather the impact of such phenomenon then.  

PAGASA, however warned then that the problem was, while the dry spell and drought were forecasted to only persist until the first quarter of this year, they were already expecting then that it will last until the end of the second quarter. True enough, it did. In fact, we are still in the midst of it.

To the affluent families, it is just a matter of turning on their air conditioner unit 24/7 and using their gensets if there are power outages (which would likely happen in a prolonged dry spell). That’s it, and life will go on. To the farmers, however, it is a lot different. It is about their livelihood. Obviously, as such will be disastrous and render farmers (especially, the small ones) penniless. So that, it is disheartening sometimes that there are people who do not see it that way. 

For instance, in May, last year, as concerns of El Niño started to build up, NEDA Sec. Balisacan simply told us that “rice production could decrease by double digits.” That “agriculture’s contribution to the country’s economy as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) is “roughly 10%, so that, “contraction in agriculture caused by El Niño may not deeply impact the economy.” Lest we forget, he also expressed earlier “the need for the country to liberalize the agriculture sector to allow the timely importation of crucial farm products whenever necessary.” 

Thus, as the first quarter GDP growth figures will show, for the major economic sectors (on a quarter-on-quarter basis), the industry and services rose by 2.6% and 1.0%, respectively.  The agriculture, forestry and fishing dropped by 0.3%. 

Knowing fully well that the agriculture sector is just a single-digit contributor to our economy, we can’t help but agree with Sec. Balisacan that the performance in the agriculture sector will have a minimal impact on the economy. However, apart from just solely relying on imports for our shortages, hopefully, Sec. Balisacan will not just trivialize agriculture’s contribution to GDP but have the same degree of preference for the improvement of the agriculture sector. Indeed, as trivializing it will have a lasting negative impact to the agriculture sector and food security. Needless to say, the unbearable food costs especially to poor families.

Truth to tell, on Tuesday, the PSA reported “that the country’s inflation quickened to 3.8% due to food and transport costs.” It is a no-brainer. At the current exchange hovering around P57 to a US dollar, food prices will simply shoot up. Therefore, reliance on importation isn’t sustainable at all, production is. 

Let us not blame the long dry spell for our miseries. Desert-filled countries in the middle east have extended dry seasons. Yet, they are living normal lives. For one, as early as in the 1980s, recognizing their insufficient supply of water, Israel embraced a technology that addressed such predicament. The drip system or water diet.

Knowing fully well that leaves only need sunlight and roots need water, they simply water the roots in small drips. Thus, a pale of water will have a longer reach. On the other hand, knowing that plants only need soil to stand on, due to the lack of land for agriculture, Singapore embraces hydroponics. Using some pipes, they made their roof decks their farms. Moreover, other countries, don’t use paddies, they are using lakes and rivers to grow rice in floating rafts. 

Indeed, there are a lot of farming technologies that we can embrace. To make these work, the government must also provide low-cost loans and the necessary infrastructure, such as, farm to market roads, irrigation, storage facilities, transport equipment, packing and processing facilities.

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