Piñol banking on agriculture to cut poverty

THE next chief of the Department of Agriculture (DA) said over the weekend he will immediately roll out measures to hike farm production and improve food productivity to reduce poverty in rural areas.

Incoming Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said he will designate the 10 poorest provinces in the Philippines as “special areas for agricultural development” (SAAD).

To be given the SAAD designation are Lanao del Sur, Eastern Samar, Apayao, Maguindanao, Zamboanga del Norte, Sarangani, North Cotabato, Negros Oriental, Northern Samar and Western Samar.

“I [have] designed a comprehensive program which would look at the weakness of an area and its potentials in food production,” he said in a statement posted on his Facebook account.

Piñol added that the SAAD strategy he implemented in depressed areas in North Cotabato when he was governor reduced poverty in the province.

“This reduced North Cotabato’s poverty incidence per family to only 29 percent in 2007, from 52.6 percent in 1998, allowing the province to make it to the top 30 best-performing provinces before I left office,” he said.

Through SAAD, Piñol added that the DA and the local governments will identify challenges in food production and find solutions to address these problems.

“When these challenges are identified, the DA and other agencies will come in and fund the programs. The focus will be on livelihood programs, which have been proven to be effective in addressing poverty,” he said.

Piñol added that a SAAD Project Management Team will be established in the provinces, composed of both technical experts from the DA and the local government unit.

“I have already talked to the governors of two of the 10 poorest provinces—Maguindanao’s Esmael Mangudadatu and Sarangani’s Steve Solon—and both agreed to work closely with the DA in addressing poverty by improving food productivity,” Piñol said.

In a separate post, he added that there are “anomalies” in the pricing of farm products.

“The food-supply chain in the country today is controlled and, even to some extent, manipulated by the merchants and the traders. It is the trader who determines how much the price of farmers’ produce is and it is still the trader who dictates the cost of the food in the market,” he said.

To address this, the incoming DA chief made an assurance that farmers and fishermen will be given support to lower their production cost and increase their yield.

He added that encouraging farmers to become entrepreneurs will also give them direct access to the market, and remove the stranglehold of middlemen on the trade of farm commodities.

Earlier, Piñol said he has already crafted a road map based on his “Biyaheng Bukid” initiative, to boost farm output.

He said he plans to implement a number of measures in his first 100 days in the DA to increase food production and farmers’ income.

Aside from providing farmers with production support, Piñol said he plans to conduct a nationwide inspection of irrigation services, dredging of silted dams and the provision of shallow-tube wells in rice-growing areas.

The DA, he added, will immediately craft a “color-coded agricultural guide map,” which will guide farmers on which crop or farming practices are suitable in an area based on geographic, climatic and soil conditions.

Apart from this, Piñol said a National Food Consumption Quantification Survey will also be conducted by the agency to determine the kind and volume of food consumed by Filipinos.

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