MINDANAO appears to be riding well on better economic seas ahead from a year that did not bode well for its largely agricultural economy and a still-underdeveloped countryside.
Tillers on the island-group’s farms and plantations are getting better terms, after the state emphasized on declogging urban highways and decongesting cities by developing satellite areas and improving rural economies.
Plantations have been Mindanao’s strength through decades. Its banana plantations—the country’s leading dollar- earner agriculture export—have continued to weather the threat of the Panama Disease that wiped out plantations in the 1950s in Panama.
While the country’s economy was generally rosy, as in any election year, the worse episode of El Niño could not be understated as the summer months wilted dry brown farms and downgraded further the ailing energy sector. The latter sent Mindanao nights into stark darkness.
Crop industry leaders estimated the effect of the dry spell to last until the year-end and the export sector yield to the minimum volume of freight onboard.
The rice sector was hardest-hit, continued to limp and maintained the staple as a political issue. A year earlier, in 2015, farmers massed in big numbers in Kidapawan, General Santos City and Davao City to demand rice subsidies while their farms remained wilted for months.
The Kidapawan rally turned violent and authorities dispersed them with gunshots. State armed forces who herded a score of farmers, including women and the elderly, faced criminal charges.
Another staple, the banana, saw yields lower and only improved slightly by December.
But better preemptive preparations have staved off the dreaded impact of the El Niño across all sectors.
COMPARED to the worse energy crisis in the early 1980s and at least two times in the 1990s, the impact of the dry spell phenomenon to Mindanao in 2016 was tapered a little, as initiatives mounted by local governments and the energy sector paid off.
General Santos City, for instance, which used to sustain six to eight hours of power outage, experienced continued supply throughout the entire El Niño episode due to the installation of new power generation facilities.
Davao del Sur, likewise, boasted steady power via solar energy. Forty other power producers were already issued with certificates of endorsement by the Department of Energy.
The northern Mindanao provinces of Misamis Oriental and Lanao del Norte have fewer problems with power because many big-megawatt generation sources were in those areas.
But Davao City, which for years had steady power due to five standby and additional power-supply contract with the Davao Light and Power Co., was hit this year with as long as four hours of outage.
In Lanao del Norte high electricity bills hit residents. Some were dumbfounded as the Mindanao grid’s main source, the Agus River, was in their locality.
Western Mindanao and Eastern Mindanao were still the badly hit areas in terms of steady electricity supply. Two provinces, Davao del Norte and Compostela Valley, were hounded by the political leadership tussle hounding the Davao del Norte Electric Cooperative that forced unsteady electricity even during the years when there was no El Niño.
The resort island of Samal was cut off from electricity supply when its submarine cable, which carries electricity, was severely damaged by a cargo ship anchor dropped at the channel off the Davao City wharf.
WITH emergency funds in place at the regional Department of Agriculture (DA) offices and farm preparations months earlier, the dry spell surprisingly was not too harsh on farmers.
Farm subsidies though were insufficient and have sent farmers from the Davao region to mass up at the regional DA office to demand rice support. Violence was prevented however, after regional officials and leaders of farmers reached a consensus at rice distribution.
Farm inputs, seeds and other planting materials, have to be given to this day to farmers.
The Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (Pbgea), which groups 33 big plantation companies and foreign-food exporters, have expressed bigger global supply glut and competition from other banana exporting countries as their concern.
A Pbgea document pointed to China as a major market for Philippine Cavendish banana. The world’s second-largest economy has already ventured into opening up its own plantations in the agriculture-based Asian nations. Its two foreign exporters have also established plantations in South America.
While the volume of harvests may not be threatening Mindanao banana exports yet, these moves came at a period when the Philippines’s toughest rival exporters from South America have already began courting the traditional Philippine markets in Asia and the Middle East.
The group also wanted the Duterte administration to strike another working peace process with the communist-led revolutionary group to prevent multimillion-peso losses to attacks of their plantation facilities. Pbgea pointed at the relative easing up of pressure at the banana plantations in Colombia after its government agreed to a peace pact with the FARC guerrillas.
A Philippine mission went to East Europe to seek new markets for the Philippine bananas. But Pbgea said it was still to be apprised of the result of the mission. One country visited by the mission was the Vladivostok, part of former Russian federation.
The DA has also recently included cacao among the cash crops to be supported, as industry leaders persuaded the government with its potential to supply a market severely handicapped with supply to satisfy even the national demand.
BY mid-2016, the DA allotted P49 million to rehabilitate senile and unproductive cacao trees in the Davao region, which accounts for 80 percent of national production.
The rehabilitation would involve pruning and application of fertilizers to arrest the declining production output of cacao, the DA-High Value Crops Development Program (HVCDP) said. Farmers would be provided with “a package of technical assistance and training and provision of pruning equipment and fertilizers.”
Of the rehabilitation fund, P42 million would be used to buy fertilizer, P6 million to acquire pruning shears and pruning saws and P1 million for the budding knife.
The Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (Philmech) said a national development program for cacao was also upgraded to end by 2022, instead of the year 2020.
If achieved in the target date of 2022, the additional export earnings may well erase by 150 percent the national annual import expenditure of purchasing cacao beans from other countries.
The cacao industry profile prepared by the cacao industry cluster coordinator of the Department of Trade and Industry said the Philippines exported in 2011 cacao beans worth $5.2 million, but imported more of what the country lacked by as much as $102.67 million in the same year.
BY that time and about 1 million more cacao trees planted annually, “at least 50 million cacao trees [would be] producing 2-kilogram dried beans equivalent to one tree. Its support machineries to the cacao development would help the industry generate 2 kilogram of dried beans per tree.”
Coffee industry leaders were also looking down South to many areas in Mindanao to rejuvenate coffee growing and to entice former coffee planters to renew their interest. A recent national conference has pointed out that the country was draining about $7 billion in coffee imports.
The other country’s staple, corn, was also getting new attention, as the Davao regional DA office subjected a new Filipino-designed compact corn mill to a final operation orientation with agricultural engineers and local government agricultural technicians.
The units would be distributed later to farmers’ cooperatives in the region. The testing would validate the prospects of reducing wastage of corn grains during postharvest processing. Earlier tests at Philmech, which designed the implement, indicated a grains-recovery rate of up to 64 percent.
The DA said the rate “is a competitive recovery level for the production of corn grits.”
Philmech said it would renew its bid to have a wider support to the mechanization of the farms to increase yield and reduce
The fisheries sector, likewise, got a boost to the livelihood of fishermen as the new agriculture chief gave 400 motorized boats to indigent fishing families in the cities of Tagum, Panabo and Samal last August.
Three hundred of such fiberglass boats, which costs P70,000, and fitted with fishnets and fishing rods, were also given to
The beneficiaries would be required to join the anti-illegal fishing and coastal cleanup efforts under the Bantay Dagat program. The Davao del Norte and Davao
City donations would be part of the national distribution of 200,000 boats to fishing communities.
THE unresolved air-traffic congestion at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) has begun to yield blessings to provincial airports as the country’s flag-carrier, Philippine Airlines, was expected to finalize its plan to make Davao City its other hub.
PAL said it was pursuing expansion plans outside of the Naia to skirt the congestion there. It said it would be mounting a possible Japan-Davao City route when the hub project would be done.
But the Davao City government has already tasked the local Civil Aviation Authorities of the Philippines to improve the facilities at the Davao airport, while local business and government leaders would be awating the Congressional approval of a proposal to transform the management at the airport into an authority. To be continued
Image credits: Nonie Reyes