MANILA – Leaders of the agro-industrial sector on Friday welcomed the appointment of a full-time Department of Agriculture secretary, and urged Secretary Francisco Laurel Jr. to look into several key areas as part of getting the country in gear for higher agricultural productivity.
In an interview, Danilo Fausto, president of the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI), said Laurel must first look into the lackluster production of rice, which has caused the staple commodity’s retail prices to spike in recent months.
Economists have pointed out that higher rice prices have contributed significantly to inflationary pressures this year.
“Rice is a politically-sensitive commodity. Looking into supply issues to put prices in check should be the first order of business,” Fausto said.
He also appealed to Laurel to lead the way towards revitalizing the Philippines’ shrinking export market for fruits and other high-value crops.
He said the country’s agricultural exports consist mainly of four products –bananas, coconut, mango and pineapple.
Fausto said there is a sizable untapped market overseas for such items as “ube” (purple yam) and durian, among others, but the local impetus to serve those potential foreign customers is lacking.
Meanwhile, Elias Jose Inciong, United Broiler Raisers Association (UBRA) president, appealed to Laurel to fast-track the process of putting avian influenza (AI) vaccines in the hands of local poultry farmers.
He said unlike vaccines for African swine fever (ASF), which are still under trial internationally, AI vaccines have long been available abroad, but private sector efforts to import them into the country have been met with bureaucratic delays.
“Acquiring AI vaccines has been so hard, that some poultries have resorted to buying them through Lazada and Shopee. But it is uncertain where these vaccines came from, and whether they would work. I think making vaccines readily available is one of the first challenges that the new DA secretary will have to face,” Inciong told the Philippine News Agency.
He said the winter season will again see migratory birds coming to the Philippines, possibly bringing with them a new strain of AI, increasing the urgency of releasing effective vaccines to the local poultry industry.
Edwin Chen, past president of the Pork Producers Federation of the Philippines (PPFP), also called on the new agriculture chief to hasten the process of approving ASF vaccines for use by local piggeries.
He said in view of the ASF epidemic’s persistence in the country, inter-agency cooperation between the DA and the Department of Health (DOH) must be strengthened.
He noted that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is overseeing the ASF vaccine trials, is an attached agency to the DOH.
Chen also appealed to Laurel to harmonize all quarantine rules nationwide, because the “unsynchronized” policies of various local government units (LGUs) in relation to the cross-jurisdictional transportation of pork and pork products has made it difficult for PPFP members to do business.
“Maybe he (Laurel) should designate a final authority on the matter (pork quarantine rules). National coordination will really make it easier for the (pork) industry. We understand why LGUs are being so strict in view of ASF, but we need clear direction on the matter,” he said. (PNA)