WITH the start of the rainy season, Secretary of Agriculture Proceso Alcala has called on the nation’s farmers to plant early this year. The El Niño dry spell continues to threaten Philippine agriculture, he said. It is now weak but it is expected to become moderate until August, persist until December, and then start weakening in early 2016.
Thus, while the Philippine monsoon season has begun, with rain-bearing winds now blowing from the southwest, they can give way at any time to the El Niño’s dry winds blowing in from the central Pacific in the east. Thus Secretary Alcala’s advice to farmers to plant now to take advantage of the intermittent rains. Should the El Niño threat intensify any time in the coming months, he said, the Department of Agriculture is ready to undertake cloud seeding operations and to install water and solar pumps in farm communities that are in greatest need.
Despite the El Niño threat that now threatens the Philippine agriculture, it remains the most crucial sector in the country’s economic growth. The agricultural sector occupies almost a third of the country’s land area and has a third of the country’s labor force. Yet it contributes only a tenth of the country’s annual growth as measured in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The country imports more agricultural products than it exports. It is way behind its fellow ASEAN nations Thailand and Vietnam from which it imports most of its rice needs.
It should not be like this, the Vegetable Importers, Exporters, and Vendors Association (VIEVA) of the Philippines said this week as it pressed the government to move more decisively in agricultural development in the face of ASEAN economic integration starting in the coming year. The government has the plans, it has the budget, but agriculture needs a truly coordinated program of action between the government and the private sector for it to truly flourish and be the springboard for the Philippines becoming a true Asian economic tiger.
A major problem facing Filipino farmers, the association said, is lack of financing. Banks regard farmers as high-risk borrowers and they have limited knowledge on bank loan processes. Farmers also need assistance in new technology, high-yielding crops, and other advances in agriculture. They need assistance in establishing reliable market linkages.
In this last year of the Aquino administration, it should look into undertaking an all-out drive to make Philippine agriculture the major economic engine that it should be. We have the land and other needed resources, we have the technology, we have the people, and, as the VIEVA pointed out, we have the budget. It would reach and benefit the biggest and neediest sector of Philippine society, and provide the biggest step towards a truly inclusive economic growth for the country.
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