THE Department of Agriculture (DA) said it will step up its seed and fertilizer distribution and support the poultry industry to help the government catch up on its spending, after the delay in the 2019 budget dampened economic growth during the first quarter, as pressure from elsewhere in the government mounted on the DA to pull agriculture out of its 10-year spell of weak growth.

“Right now nakatutok ang ating economic managers sa agriculture (the economic managers are keeping an eye on agriculture),” Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol told reporters.

According to a Department of Finance (DoF) statement, Mr. Piñol presented to the Cabinet’s Economic Development Cluster a plan focused on interventions to improve productivity in major crops; regulatory and support activities for the poultry and livestock subsectors; and livelihood programs and safety nets for the fisheries sector.

He said the DA plans to distribute certified seed early to rice farmers tilling a combined 2.2 million hectares of land. New plant varieties will also be adopted to protect top fruit exports, and expanding vegetable farming on about 50,000 hectares in Mindanao.

The DA is also distributing fertilizer to rice-growing areas with sufficient irrigation — about 42,902 hectares — this quarter, while also distributing seed and fertilizer to corn and sorghum growers.

The DA has said that it plans to expand the area planted to corn by 100,000 hectares, and to sorghum by 100,000 hectares.

The importation of 300,00 MT of corn at zero tariff will also help support the poultry and livestock sectors.

The department is also evaluating a proposal to establish four dairy farms with 6,000 cows each in various locations, with an estimated production of 36 million liters of milk worth P1.4 billion.

In the DoF statement, Mr. Piñol also committed to fully implement the programs of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, which is funed by tariffs generated by rice imports.

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said in a statement, “This whole program now has to be translated into higher growth for 2019.” He said that to further boost the economy, agriculture has to recover from its 10-year, low-growth phase and post growth of at least 2%, annually.

In 2018, agriculture accounted for 0.1% of GDP growth, a proportion that did not change in the first quarter of 2019. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang