Covid cuts agri output in Southeast Asia

The coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic is expected to reduce the volume of agriculture output in Southeast Asia by 3.11 percent, according to the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca).

The loss was equivalent to at least 17.03 million metric tons (MT) of agricultural production for the first quarter of 2020 as a result of a decline in farm labor affecting 100.77 million farmers, it said.

Searca added that this might result to a $3.76-billion or 1.4-percent loss in gross domestic product for the region.

In a policy paper titled “Impact of Covid-19 Pandemic on the Agriculture Production  in Southeast Asia: Reinforcing Transformative Change in Agricultural Food Systems,” Searca asserted that a unique balance must be achieved among Southeast Asian countries on two important goals — trade and food security.

Searca Director Glenn Gregorio and Technical Consultant for Project Development Rico Ancog suggested the “collective” enhancement of capacities leading to higher agricultural productivity.

“While most of the efforts are targeted within a country, it would be critical that policies supporting trade in Asean must be strengthened to simultaneously support productive and inclusive agricultural systems that ensure food security in the region,” they said.

As Covid-19 has become a universal proble, Searca noted that more collaboration might be done via the platform of the Asean Economic Cooperation.

Factors and actions that block open trade flows and enhanced partnerships must be controled, the group said.

“Effective coordination mechanisms among countries to reduce trade and food insecurities both at the national and regional levels in the long-term must be continuously pursued,” Searca added, noting that agrientrepreneurship should be supported through policies at the domestic fronts.

Searca also stressed the need for the Philippines to train and mentor a new breed of farmer-entrepreneurs, given that the average age of traditional farmers is 57.

This initiative should include the youth and women, the agency said.

Searca also called for a food policy on immune system-boosting and the need for a Covid-19 controling nutritional food orientation.

“At the individual and household levels, information related to healthy diets and lifestyles, agricultural produce that are nutritious and rich in micronutrients, food preparation and preservation techniques, as well as waste management strategies must be made accessible,” it said.

Agriculture remains a major job-generating sector in Asean, with 31 percent of combined population employed in agriculture.

 No fish

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture (DA) on Thursday said the country production of fish was expected to fall short by 33 days by the end of 2020.

“If we only depend on local production, we’ll be negative 33 days by the end of the year,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar said in a virtual news briefing.

For the first quarter of this year, fish output was at 980,700 MT, a 3.2-percent decline from 1.013 million MT recorded in the same period in 2019, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed.

Municipal fisheries subsector, which comprised 26.5 percent of the total fisheries production, posted a 3.4-percent decrease as catch dropped to 260,050 MT from 269,180 MT output a year ago.

Likewise, commercial fisheries went down by 2.2 percent to 213,110 MT from 217,810 MT a year ago.

Aquaculture production also declined by 3.5 percent during the quarter.

The national fishers group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) earlier blamed the DA for its failure to strengthen the country’s fisheries production during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It criticized the Agriculture department’s P31-billion Plant, Plant, Plant Program or Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat Laban sa Covid-19 program, which it said did not address the adverse impacts of the health crisis on agricultural and fisheries production.

“[T]he government should not overlook the farmers and fisherfolks who are the country’s food security frontliners. How can we establish stable food supply in the market if there is no significant program that will strengthen and systematize the countryside production?” Pamalakaya National Chairman Fernando Hicap said.