Agriculture output shrinks 1.2%

A “perfect storm” – comprised of a series of typhoons, COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, the persistence of African Swine Fever (ASF), among other unfortunate scenarios – has challenged the agriculture sector in 2020, bringing down the total full-year output at -1.2 percent.

Released yesterday, the latest Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data showed the country’s farm output went down by 1.2 percent in 2020, from a growth of 0.7 percent in 2019, after crops, livestock, poultry, and fisheries all recorded lower production. 

In the fourth quarter alone, output declined by 3.8 percent, which is higher compared to the level of the decline of 0.1 percent in agricultural production during the same period in 2019.

At current prices, the value of agricultural production stood at P503.8 billion, which was 5.0 percent higher than the previous year’s level.

Shortly after the PSA data came out, Agriculture Secretary William Dar somehow downplayed the full-year contraction.

He said that things could have been worse following the series of typhoons from November to December, the persistence of COVID-19 pandemic and African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreaks, Taal Volcano eruption in January, among others. Collectively, he described these events as “a perfect storm”.

For this year, Dar is still bent on targeting a 2.5 percent growth in farm output.

During the fourth quarter of last year, crop production, which contributed 57.9 percent to the total agricultural production, contracted by -0.4 percent, while its full-year output grew by 1.5 percent.

At current prices, crop production was valued at P275.5 billion. This was an increase of 8.7 percent from the previous year’s level.

“Serving as the silver lining and big consolation was that the crops sub-sector posted a positive 1.5 percent growth, despite a string of strong typhoons that ravaged Luzon and parts of the Visayas,” Dar said.

Moving forward, he said the Department of Agriculture (DA) expects the production of rice and corn sub-sectors to further increase in the first semester and the entire 2021, barring strong typhoons. This, as close to P20 billion has been allotted for the production of these staples.

Meanwhile, livestock production, which shared 15.4 percent of the total agricultural output, decreased by 12.9 percent. Year-on-year, it posted a -7.4 percent decrease in production. On the other hand, dairy production was up by 12.7 percent during the period.

At current prices, the value of livestock production amounted to P85.3 billion or 15.1 percent more this quarter.

To rev up the livestock sub-sector, particularly the hog industry, Dar said the DA will implement a swine re-population program, where backyard and commercial raisers on ASF-free areas or “green zones” will be given incentives to go back into the business.

“Another favorable development is that the board of directors of the Land Bank of the Philippines during its meeting on January 27 has approved a special financing window for swine commercial raisers, with an initial exposure of P15 billion,” Dar said.

Like in livestock, production in poultry, which shared 12.2 percent of the total agricultural output, declined by -5.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020. Year-on-year, poultry output growth rate dropped to -3.8 percent.

At current prices, the value of poultry production at P69.0 billion was lower by -5.6 percent compared to the previous year’s record.

Fisheries, on the other hand, posted a -4.7 percent contraction in output, while accounting for 14.5 percent of the total agricultural production.

As a result, the subsector’s output declined by -1.2 percent.

“For the fisheries sector, we hope that it could pick up steam this year, as we embark on a massive aquaculture and mariculture development program, and enhanced partnership between commercial and municipal fishers for joint venture fishing operations,” Dar further said.

At current prices, the value of fisheries production amounted to P74.0 billion, indicating a -6.8 percent contraction this quarter.

Earlier this month, Glenn B. Gregorio, director at Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), said the agriculture sector may contract by more than 1 percent within the first three months of this year on the weight of the lingering impact of strong typhoons, namely Quinta, Rolly, and Ulysses.

He said that there is a need to strengthen the resilience of the agriculture sector as natural hazards are becoming more frequent and unavoidable.

“Given the significant impact of typhoons and floods to the crop sector as experienced in 2020 or even in the years prior, we join the clamor for more resilient agricultural farming systems,”  Gregorio said.  

“This clearly requires an increased percentage of Filipino farmers having internalized a decision-support system that would make them more agile and effective in responding to natural hazards and other potential external disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.