Department of Agriculture Secretary William Dar (File photo)

MANILA – The Department of Agriculture (DA) had its share of challenges in 2021, including calamity-related damage and the African swine fever (ASF), but it remained focused on projects that will strengthen food security levels and improve the quality of agricultural produce.

Secretary William Dar said the agency will continue to pour in maximum contribution to help in the economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic continues to limit any semblance of normalcy for people already fed up with quarantine lockdowns and mobility restrictions. In agriculture, the African swine fever, the series of calamities, and the global hike in prices of inputs, like corn, soybeans, fertilizer, and petroleum, have aggravated the situation. Our job is far from over,” he said in a statement.

All DA heads of office have been directed to realign unutilized 2021 funds toward priority focus areas, as well as in the rehabilitation and recovery efforts for Typhoon Odette-affected regions.

Effective fund utilization, proactive planning and implementation, publication of operations manuals for all units, and institutionalization of the food systems approach advocated by the United Nations will be prioritized in 2022, according to a memorandum order (MO) issued on Tuesday.

Pushing for sustainability

To ensure that food will be within reach of every Filipino, Dar’s administration pushed for urban farming among households.

Earlier this year, he asked for PHP1.1 billion for its urban agriculture projects like community gardens where people can source their food.

The DA also invited investors to venture on agriculture to develop sufficiency and avoid dependency on imported products that strain the local market.

“We encourage local government units (LGUs) and the private sector to invest in agriculture and fishery infrastructure and livelihood projects, particularly in palay (unhusked rice) procurement, provision of drying, storage and rice milling facilities, farmers’ trading and consolidation centers, cold storage facilities and logistics like reefer and food delivery vans,” Dar said.

The DA is likewise working on foreign direct investments, through its marketing and international affairs teams, to package big-ticket investment projects, Undersecretary for Fisheries and for Agri-industrialization Cheryl Marie Caballero said.

Quality products, higher value

The goal to achieve competitive and high-quality products will take long but the DA stands firm that the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) is a game-changing reform policy that broke the decades-long inefficiency of the country’s rice sector and enhanced its prospect of being globally competitive.

“The RTL is a transformative reform that benefits all industry stakeholders, most particularly farmers and consumers, as it liberalizes rice trade by imposing tariffs on imports in lieu of quantitative restrictions and provides a yearly PHP10-billion budget through the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) for six years to empower Filipino rice farmers and enable them to compete with their ASEAN counterparts,” the DA said.

The sustained implementation of the RCEF as it nears the mid-term, in combination with the DA Philippine Integrated Rice Program, has achieved several milestones.

Notably, average palay production has increased by 17 percent to 4.26 metric tons (MT) per hectare (ha), from 3.64 MT/ha, in 42 RCEF provinces; average production cost was reduced by PHP1, from PHP12.52/kilogram (kg); and seed requirement per hectare using mechanical seeder decreased by 67 percent, from 90 kg to 30 kg, and by 33 percent to 60 kg via manual method.

Through its full six-year term, the RCEF aims to increase the country’s average palay production to 5 MT/ha, from 3.64 MT/ha in 2019; reduce the production cost by PHP2/kg to PHP3/kg; reduce postharvest losses by 2 to 3 percent; and increase the average farmers’ income by 30 percent for those who have availed of RCEF drying and milling facilities.

Under the RTL, the Duterte administration is also providing an unconditional cash assistance of PHP5,000, called the Rice Farmers’ Financial Assistance, to Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture-listed rice farmers tilling two hectares and below.

Hog industry recovery

As of the latest information from the Bureau of Animal Industry, the DA received PHP2.158-billion worth of request to indemnify ASF-affected backyard hog raisers.

A total PHP1.697 billion have already been paid to 48,530 farmer-beneficiaries, who owned 379,420 culled hogs.

The remaining fund will be released to indemnify remaining backyard raisers who owned about 92,200 culled hogs.

The government is allotting PHP42.8 billion for lending to backyard and commercial hog raisers in ASF-free areas through the Land Bank of the Philippines, worth PHP30 billion; Development Bank of the Philippines, PHP12 billion; and the DA’s Agricultural Credit Policy Council, PHP800 million.

Under the hog repopulation program, the DA has distributed 8,169 sentinel pigs to 3,061 farmer-beneficiaries in 312 ASF-free barangays to date.

It will also establish 10 community-based production facilities in ASF-free areas or green zones through clustering and consolidation, worth PHP50 million, including a climate-controlled 300-head grower capacity building located in a bio-secured area; and 16 swine breeder multiplier farms, worth PHP125 million, in partnership with hog farmers’ cooperatives and associations, LGUs, and state universities and colleges, DA- National Livestock Program Director Ruth Miclat said in a separate statement.

Further, the DA is encouraging backyard and commercial hog raisers to have their animal stocks insured with the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation to avail of insurance coverage of up to PHP10,000 for fatteners and PHP14,500 for breeders.

To date, the DA has procured and distributed 134 ASF rapid polymerase chain reaction test kits to help affected LGUs through their provincial veterinarians in the early detection and sustained surveillance efforts on the ground.

OneDA Family

For 2022, DA officials and staff members are tasked to review the budget allocation and support the key strategies espoused in the OneDA reform agenda.

“Let’s increase our investments in the more transformative interventions that will help consolidate, modernize, industrialize, and professionalize Philippine agriculture,” Dar wrote in his MO.

The DA executives and staff members are also directed to work on building up technical and managerial skills to take in additional responsibilities.

The OneDA reform agenda advocates professionalization of DA employees.

The task of monitoring and evaluating how each unit measures up to the OneDA agenda was given to the Policy and Planning Division of the department, which will craft the OneDA Reform Agenda operations manual.

“The goal is to achieve a more sustainable and inclusive food system, considering various aspects that contribute to the efficiency of each system, leaving no stone unturned – for a more sustainable and fair value chain,” Dar said. (PNA)