THE Department of Agriculture (DA) said additional food imports remain a “last resort,” to be tapped only if domestic sources are unable to meet demand during and beyond the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Our vision of a food-secure and resilient Philippines with prosperous farmers and fisherfolk remains, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and onto the new normal. We will only allow imports to fill in the deficit or what we cannot produce locally,” Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said.

Mr. Dar was responding to claims that the current DA policy has made the country more import dependent.

Citing data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), Mr. Dar said the country has been increasingly dependent on imported food over the past 30 years.

“In 2016, import-dependency was at 22.5%, which slightly inched up to 22.7% in 2017, and jumped to 29.2% in 2018 — as local food production was not able to keep pace with population growth during that three-year period,” the PSA reported.

Mr. Dar said the food sufficiency ratio for aggregated food commodities fell to 79.4% in 2018 compared to 86.8% in 2017 according to PSA’s food balance sheets data.

Food balance sheets give an indication of how adequate food supply is relative to the population’s nutritional needs.

“PSA figures also show that the country has been importing several major food items, as a percentage of total national requirement: rice 14%; corn 12%; pork 14%; dressed chicken 6%; beef 39%; onions 38%; garlic 91%; coffee 71%; and peanut 75%,” the DA said.

Fermin D. Adriano, Mr. Dar’s adviser on political economy, said that low farm productivity is the cause of weak local food production, unable to service the population of 110 million.

“While our population growth during the last decade, from 2008 to 2018, averaged around 1.7% to 1.8%, our agricultural sector grew an annual average of only 1.3% for the same period,” Mr. Adriano said.

“In economic parlance, this is a simple case of local demand outstripping local supply. Thus, importation is a necessary recourse to ensure that our people will not go hungry,” he added.

Meanwhile, Mr. Dar said the DA has been investing in the modernization and industrialization of the agriculture sector to address the low productivity, with the focus on boosting resilience, competitiveness, and sustainability.

“Realizing this vision will require dedicated efforts among major agri-fishery industry stakeholders, led by the DA, to continuously empower farmers, fisherfolk, and entrepreneurs, and for the private sector to help increase farm productivity and profitability, taking into account sustainability and resilience,” Mr. Dar said. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave