SEARCA sees better agri prospects for 2021

THE agriculture sector of the Philippines and Southeast Asia is seen having better prospects for 2021 despite the disruption of agricultural production by several catastrophes and the pandemic that slowed down the pace by which the sector plays as an engine for economic development in Southeast Asia.

In his 2020 year-end message, Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) Director Glenn Gregorio noted that while the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic crippled most of the key economic sectors in the Philippines, the agriculture sector was able to maintain positive growth in 2020.

“It must be acknowledged that there were earlier production growth targets that may not have been achieved. But being able to maintain positive growth is an enduring story of resilience at a time when it is needed the most,” he said.

Gregorio added it is from this perspective that the overall outlook for the agriculture sector of the Philippines for 2021 is generally positive and that “we are banking on a more aggressive integrated intervention from the government sector bolstered by heightened private sector engagement.”

Gregorio said the year 2021 must be a year where previous justifications are to be rendered as no longer acceptable and instead, the touted “new normal” clearly means and translates to concrete actions that are wiser, effective, efficient and sustainable.

“These actions and solution, while being locked down and boxed in, have been brewing to enable us to step up and step out as they are implemented this 2021,” he added.

Gregorio said SEARCA remains hopeful that 2021 is a year when the agriculture sector will significantly grow and truly become an instrument for socioeconomic transformation that centers on the well-being of farmers and their families.

Learning lessons

Dealing with Covid-19, the SEARCA director said, provided key a lesson that must be learned from 2020, which is the appreciation of risks and uncertainty management.

He said the back-to-back hazards experienced in 2020 need to be seen as paradigm-shifting, and a call for the rethinking, recalibrating, redesigning and rebranding of farming systems as sustainable agricultural food systems. Also, integrated approaches that mainstream resilience in every node of the value chains of the agricultural food systems need to be made operational and sustained in 2021 and beyond.

“Hence, technological interventions and supported by innovations in policy, institutional, conceptual, and social aspects should be on the top of our priority so that we would be more able to comprehend these risks and uncertainties. Using science-based management, we will be ready to step up and step out in response,” Gregorio said.

Noting that the demand for major agricultural commodities remains under the pretext of highly evolving developmental challenges, Gregorio said there is an urgent call for a sustained investment in the agriculture sector that usher in technological leapfrogging in areas of production, logistics and transportation, value-adding activities, and a science-based system of incentivizing consumers towards sustainable behavior. 

“For crops production and post-production, we need more expanded systematic weather stations and precision agriculture systems that efficiently provide real-time information and aid for both immediate and long-term decision making,” Gregorio said adding this is in addition to the continued and expanded support to Filipino farmers for improved access to better agricultural inputs.

He said these inputs are quality seeds and stress tolerant varieties, better animal and fish genetic breeds, mechanization, technical advice, good agricultural practices, and modern technological tools (i.e., best mobile apps for agriculture, drone technology), among others.

Gregorio said what is needed for animal production is an integrated farming system that is based on the One Health/EcoHealth approach that calls for the operationalization of the triple bottom line approach: profit, people and planet.

He explained that as impending threats like African swine fever and other zoonotic diseases remain, support is needed for improved access to better surveillance system, integrated biosecurity measures, and technology-based operation system (tunnel-vent technology), among others.