Dec 292014

MANILA, Philippines – With only a year and a half left before the end of the Aquino administration, the Department of Agriculture (DA) remains confident it can attain the production targets under its key programs.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said for the coming year, the department would build on the gains of its major programs for food staples, animal industry and high-value crops as it strives to strengthen the value chain in various farm subsectors.

For the remaining period of the current administration, at least, the department would strengthen further the support provided for producers of major food staples such as rice and corn under its flagship Food Staples Sufficiency Program (FSSP).

The Philippines last July succeeded in securing an extension of its quantitative restriction (QR) on rice imports until 2017. This entails increasing the volume of rice that can enter the country at a reduced, albeit still high tariff.

The continued imposition of high tariff on imported rice is expected to help build the competitiveness of Filipino farmers amid the full integration of Southeast Asian economies in 2015.

Having completed all the legal requirements with the World Trade Organization (WTO) in November, the Philippines will allow beginning Jan. 1, 2015 the entry of 805,200 metric tons of imported rice-755,200 MT of country-specific origin and 50,000 MT of omnibus origin-at a tariff of 35 percent.

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Alcala said the department would maximize the borrowed time for the protection of farmers by expanding the coverage of its Sikat Saka financing program for small farmers in the coming year.

Under the Sikat Saka program, small palay farmers can borrow from state-run Landbank of the Philippines as much as P47,000 per hectare if they are cultivating certified seeds and P52,000 if they are planting hybrid rice.

The program is now being implemented in 25 provinces but would be implemented in 20 more provinces in 2015.

Domestic palay production is expected to have reached 18.8 million MT this year, slightly short of this year’s target of 19.07 million MT, but up from last year’s total production of 18. 44 million MT.

With expansions in production areas and yield per hectare, the country is expected to produce around 20.08 million MT next year.

Corn production, meanwhile, is seen to have reached 7.8 million MT in 2014, up from 7.4 million MT  in 2013. Next year, the country is expected to produce around 8.4 million MT. The country is now 103 percent self-sufficient in its corn requirements.

Several think tanks, however, have questioned the merits of the government’s push for attaining self sufficiency in rice, noting it uses up so much of the government’s resources that could be otherwise used for other programs in the agriculture sector.

The Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) have said it would ultimately be more economical for the government to import more rice.

The DA, however, maintains that pursuing self-sufficiency in rice would greatly contribute to food security as supply of the staple grain is vulnerable to political turmoil, climate disturbances and other factors that may affect production,

Domestic corn supply is likewise being protected by disallowing exports. The DA is encouraging production growth beyond the sufficiency level so the country can attract investments in animal feed milling and other animal industries.

Beyond food staples, other high-value agricultural subsectors are being positioned for expansion.

Alcala said more poultry companies are seeking incentives from the government indicating, strong domestic demand and room for growth in the sector. 

“Many want to take advantage of the country’s birdflu-free status. It’s a great advantage for us,” he said. “This also indicates that there is still elbow room in the industry.” 

Aside from strong domestic demand, poultry growers also want to take advantage of strong demand for chicken in South Korea, Japan and the Middle East.

In 2014, the chicken dressing plants of San Miguel Corp. in Quezon province had passed the sanitary and phytosanitary requirements of United Arab Emirates but the company is still awaiting halal pre-qualification before it can proceed with exportation.

Late in 2013, Bountry Fresh also gained accreditation from the Korean Quarantine Inspection Agency for chicken exports after the inspection of its dressing plant in Pulilan, Bulacan.

The Philippines also wants to increase its poultry exports to Japan, which is already importing yakitori nuggets from the country.

Philippine poultry sector remains in good condition as it remains free from avian influenza that has plagued the poultry industries of neighboring Asian countries like South Korea, Hong Kong and China.

The livestock sector is also seen to get a boost with the completion of two AAA-rated slaughterhouses in Batangas and Tarlac. Construction of the slaughterhouses began in 2014 and is seen to be completed in 2015.

The P120-million abattoir in Bamban, Tarlac is expected to operate in the first quarter of 2015. The facility, which has a processing capacity of 3,000 heads of birds per hour, will serve the tolling needs of small poultry raisers in the province.

With the establishment of the export-oriented slaughterhouse in the province, small poultry raisers can take advantage of the huge demand for chicken in South Korea, which has recently expressed interest in increasing imports of farm products from the Philippines, poultry products included.

The P150-million cutting floor in Tanauan, Batangas, meanwhile, would have a minimum processing capacity of 250 hogs in a day and a maximum of 500 hogs per day

Alcala said this would encourage swine growers to raise their hogs up to 140 kilograms of live weight, an ideal size for slaughter.

“Our swine industry continues to grow as the country remains free from foot-and-mouth disease,” he said. 

In 2015, the DA is also increasing the number of trading centers under its Agri- Pinoy Program. The department has so far constructed five and would open 10 more.

The Agri-Pinoy trading center program is a component of the Agri-Pinoy framework for attaining sufficiency in food staples and improving the working conditions of farmers.

The Agri-Pinoy framework, on the whole, aims to make farmers trade-oriented rather than production-oriented alone by introducing them to various parts of the value chain.

 “I’m looking forward to 2015. It will be a brighter year for Philippine agriculture as more trading centers and other infrastructure needed by farmers are provided,” said Alcala.

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