‘Systemic issues prevent PHL from further expanding agri output’

Philippine farm production is poised for a turnaround this year, but achieving the 2-percent annual growth will remain “very elusive” due to systemic challenges, according to the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA).

SEARCA said it sees a “high probability of maintaining positive growth over the rest of the year” based on the agriculture sector’s performance in the first half.

The country’s farm output in the first quarter declined by 3.3 percent while full year production in 2020 contracted by 1.2 percent due to the lackluster performance of the livestock and poultry subsectors.

“Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have noted with keen interest how the agriculture sector has managed to achieve a positive growth rate,” SEARCA said in a statement.

“However, the challenge of surpassing a 2-percent growth rate of the volume of agriculture production may possibly remain very elusive given the number of systemic challenges besetting the agriculture of the country.”

The Department of Agriculture (DA) is targeting to grow farm output by 2.5 percent this year.

SEARCA said long-term institutional reforms would transform the agriculture sector into a “dynamic and highly productive” one.

“Overall, what remains is the need to accelerate the transformation of the sector into a dynamic and highly productive sector through long-term institutional and programmatic innovative interventions to make the agricultural food system responsive to food security and poverty reduction targets.”

SEARCA lauded the government’s agricultural interventions and programs amid the economic implications of the Covid-19 pandemic and persistence of natural hazards like typhoons.

“Looking into the macro-level indicators, it is clear that the Philippine government performed fairly well given the peculiar challenges brought about by the pandemic and natural hazards,” it said.

“The positive growth of the sector during the past years is surely a noteworthy achievement. Productivity indicators could have significantly plunged if no necessary and immediate interventions in response to the pandemic were put in place.”

Nonetheless, SEARCA said 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.”

“In the second half of 2021, what is crucial are sustained mechanisms to reinforce a number of its institutional and policy reforms.”

SEARCA said the government must implement “systemic, long-term” interventions to make livestock and poultry production sustainable in light of the pandemic and the threats of zoonotic diseases. These interventions include better surveillance systems, integrated biosecurity measures, and technology-based operation systems.

“Comprehensive evaluation using the One Health/EcoHealth framework is needed to operationalize how the livestock and poultry sector could achieve its triple bottom line of profit, people, and planet,” it said. “Consumers are likewise enjoined to be more aware and supportive of livestock and poultry products that conform to higher quality standards.”

SEARCA said the fishery sector is showing “promise” due to its improved performance but a “more integrated infrastructure support is needed,” such as better logistics and transport system, to maximize its potential and make the industry competitive.

“For years, the Philippines would benefit from sustained investments on an integrated infrastructure system that lowers production and transportation costs across the different supply chains related to the fisheries management areas in the country,” it said.

“Of urgent concern is the need to enjoin the private sector’s investment in cold storage facilities where various technological adaptations may be applied given that various designs have been made by more advanced countries on this aspect. This is a priority given that the fishing communities remain to be among the impoverished sectors in the country.”

The government must also improve the country’s climatic and weather data system as well as develop stress-tolerant crop varieties and promote good agricultural practices to improve farm yield amid climate change threat, according to SEARCA.

“Given the significant impact of typhoons and floods to the crop sector as experienced in 2020 or even in the years prior, agricultural farming systems must be resilient,” it 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.”