DA chief downgrades growth target for PH agri sector

Agriculture Secretary William Dar has downgraded his year-end growth target for the Philippines’ farm sector, from 2.5 percent to 2 percent, amid the prevalence of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the continuous spread of African Swine Fever (ASF).

“We always would like to be optimistic but our big challenges are still there – the lockdown and ASF,” Dar told reporters, following his State of Philippine Agriculture address on Wednesday.

Dar then said that though he doesn’t want to give up on the 2.5-percent growth target that he initially gave, he will be happy to “achieve a comfortable growth in sync with population growth [and] 2 percent would be a good target”.

“There is no indication that COVID-19 is going away and we are still dealing with ASF,” Dar further said.

Just the other day, Glenn B. Gregorio, director of international think tank Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), said there’s a high chance that the agriculture sector will not be able to surpass the production growth level of 2 percent by the end of the year.

This, he said, is for the same reasons that Dar has cited, as well as the “systemic challenges” hounding the sector for a long time, including the lack of science-based and forward-looking institutional and policy reforms in the agriculture sector.

“The long years of concern on the need to increase the Gross Value Added (GVA) of the agriculture sector and the country’s overall development remains. While we celebrate the success of the Philippine government in implementing programs and projects to help boost the agriculture sector of the country, what we need is a more science-based and forward-looking structure, institutional, and operational reforms in the agriculture sector that must be sustained across different administrations,” Gregorio said.

Gregorio further said that given the significant impact of typhoons and floods on the crop sector as experienced in 2020 or even in the years prior, agricultural farming systems must be resilient. This 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.

These efforts must also include giving farmers improved access to climatic and weather data, stress-tolerant crop varieties, good agricultural practices, crop insurance system, extension system and modern technological support, and innovative financial capital.

In 2020, the country’s total agricultural production fell by 1.2 percent, from a mere growth of 0.7 percent in 2019, after crops, livestock, poultry, and fisheries all had lower output. The downtrend continued during the first three months of the year when the sector went down further by 3.3 percent from the decline of only 1.7 percent during the same period last year.

Nevertheless, Dar said the new growth forecast of 2 percent will be achieved through the efforts of the government and the positive trend in the production of rice, which is the country’s main staple.

For this year, and despite the recent heavy rains, the DA expects the country’s rice production to be around 20.4 million metric tons (MT), which should eclipse the Philippines’ highest rice output of 19.4 million MT recorded in 2019.