By Bernadette D. Nicolas & Jasper Emmanuel Y. Arcalas
Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III on Wednesday challenged the Department of Agriculture (DA) to aim for and attain a 2-percent annual growth target in the agriculture sector to stabilize food prices amid the pandemic.
Dominguez, who served as agriculture secretary during the term of the late former President Corazon Aquino, said the growth target has to be achieved to cope with the country’s yearly population growth rate, which is estimated to be around 1.4 percent in 2019 based on data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).
The country’s finance chief issued the challenge after Agriculture Secretary William Dar delivered his “State of Philippine Agriculture Report” to commemorate his first year of service as Department of Agriculture secretary.
“Finally, I leave this challenge to Secretary Dar and the Department of Agriculture: You must fulfill the target of an annual growth rate of at least 2 percent for the agriculture sector,” Dominguez said. “The steady growth of our agriculture sector is crucial to achieving stable food prices for all Filipinos.”
Responding to the dare, Dar said he is taking on the challenge issued by Dominguez.
“This is a tall order set by our mentor, and staunch friend and supporter Secretary Dominguez, but we accept his challenge. He has been instrumental in paving the way for the department to shine, especially as the Philippines faces one of its biggest threats, the Covid-19 pandemic,” Dar said in a news statement.
Dar had initially set a 2-percent growth target for the agriculture sector but revised it downward to 1.5 percent after the PSA reported on Wednesday that the farm sector grew by 0.5 percent during the second quarter of the year.
A preliminary PSA report showed that the value of agricultural output in the April-to-June period, at constant prices, reached P444.322 billion, slightly higher than the P440.309 billion recorded in the same period of last year.
PSA data showed that the 5-percent growth posted by the crops subsector, which accounted for 53.7 percent of total farm output, was sufficient to buoy the contractions in the livestock and poultry production.
Livestock output, which accounted for 17.3 percent of total farm production, declined by 8.5 percent while poultry production fell by 4.7 percent, according to PSA.
The fisheries subsector, however, posted a 0.9-percent increment in production, PSA data showed.
The country’s farm output in the first half fell by 0.6 percent as the minimal increase in farm output in the second quarter was not enough to offset the 1.7-percent contraction in the first quarter.
To support DA, Dominguez vowed that his office will work to unlock more financing for the agriculture sector by pushing amendments to the Agri-Agra Reform Act, which will provide more access to credit for the entire agricultural value chain.
Aside from this, he also suggested to Dar five ways to ensure that there would be no disruptions in food production in the future.
These include extending productivity gains in the rice sector to other plantation crops, particularly sugar; digitalizing agricultural systems; expanding access to digital marketing to boost consumer spending; mechanizing farm production; and improving the DA’s efficiency in program delivery.
As for improving the DA’s efficiency in program delivery, Dominguez said this includes completing the registry of farmers as soon as possible to have a more solid basis for policy formulation, especially in designing programs for them.
He also said the accurate estimating of the optimal rice buffer stock to reduce unnecessary costs and spoilage resulting from overstocking, and focusing research efforts on developing new farming technologies, are also among the ways that the DA can further improve its efficiency and empower the agriculture sector.