Economists expect negative to flat first-quarter agriculture performance

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By Janina C. Lim

ECONOMISTS expect production of agriculture — which contributes a tenth to gross domestic product (GDP) and a fourth of jobs in the country — to have contracted or registered flattish increment at best last quarter in the face of an El Niño-induced dry spell, according to separate interviews earlier this week.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) is scheduled to release first-quarter farm production figures on May 8, together with March and first-quarter trade-in-goods data, a day ahead of its GDP report. It will also report April inflation and March manufacturing performance on May 7.

Sought for his estimates on first-quarter farm output performance, Rolando T. Dy, executive director at the University of Asia and the Pacific’s Center for Food and Agri-Business, said “my guess is flat to one percent” expansion.

“Palay is down 1.3%, corn up by 1.2% per PSA; very likely many crops will be drought-impacted,” Mr. Dy said in a mobile phone message on Tuesday.

The PSA’s latest updates on first-quarter palay and corn production estimates, released on April 15, put palay output at 4.56 million metric tons (MMT), down 1.3% from 4.62 MMT a year ago amid a 3.5% contraction in harvest area from 1.195 million hectares (ha), while corn production likely dropped 1.2% to 2.48 MMT from 2.51 MMT a year ago as harvest area dropped to 707,370 ha from 722,460 ha.

Asked separately on her expectation, Marites M. Tiongco, associate professor and dean of the De La Salle University’s School of Economics, said via text message on Wednesday: “… It will be slow growth and still negative”, while Roehlano M. Briones, senior research fellow at the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, replied: “I suspect slower because we are in El Niño and last year we were coming out of it.”

Last year saw agriculture production grow by 1.47% in the first quarter and 1.8% in the final three months, helping to buoy 2018’s performance to a nearly flat 0.56% compared to 2017’s 3.96%.

The 2017-2022 targets 2.5-3.5% farm output growth.

As of April 25, farm losses to the dry spell amounted to some P7.96 billion, involving rice, corn, high value crops and fisheries.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol had downplayed the impact of the current dry spell particularly on rice and corn.

“Despite the impact of El Niño on rice and corn production, their respective production targets can still be met as reported losses are only 0.96% (197,700 MT) of the 20 million MT target for rice and only 2.94% (254,766 MT) of the 8.64 million MT target for corn,” Mr. Piñol said in a Facebook post on Thursday last week.