THE Department of Agriculture (DA) said it is expecting the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) to be a major food producer for the Philippines in five years.

“The potential for food production is immense. In five years the Bangsamoro area will definitely be a major food producer for the country,” Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said in a text message in response to a BusinessWorld query.

Recently, the department committed to help the region formulate a 10-year Agriculture Master plan to help the area’s agriculture and fisheries industries. The region is thought to be rich in these resources but suffers from high levels of poverty incidence, which the 10-year plan hopes to moderate.

He noted that there are about 100,000 hectares of land suitable for high-value crops like Cavendish banana, pineapple, cacao, abaca, and hybrid coconut. He also said that there are emerging rice farms in the region in the Liguasan Marsh along the Mindanao River basin and Lake Lanao in Lanao del Sur.

“The region could be the major source of cultured fish, not to mention freshwater fish from Liguasan Marsh and Lake Lanao. For rice, the region has the potential of producing at least 3 million metric tons of paddy rice every year,” he said.

For the master plan, the DA and the BARMM agriculture ministry will be conducting a multi-sectoral workshop after the elections to draft the plan.

Since becoming an autonomous region, BARMM agriculture has been held back by corruption.

According to BARMM Agriculture Minister Mohammad Yacob, “We have to leave that behind us and do it right this time,” he was quoted as saying in a social media post by Mr. Piñol earlier this week.

BARMM is composed of Lanao del Sur, Sulu, Maguindanao, Basilan, and Tawi-Tawi and the City of Cotabato.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, in the first half of 2018, the income gap, which measures the average income required by the poor to get out of poverty compared with the poverty threshold, was 32.9% in the first five provinces, up 0.8% from three years earlier. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang