By Revin Mikhael D. Ochave, Reporter
THE Department of Agriculture (DA) lowered its full-year growth target for the farm sector to 2% due to the impact of the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and the African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak.
Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar on Wednesday said the farm output target was trimmed from the initial 2.5% goal, as the sector faces challenges from the various lockdown restrictions. He also noted the hog industry continues to struggle with the ASF outbreak.
“We hope to achieve a comfortable growth in sync with the population growth. So, 2% (growth) would still be a good target,” he said at a virtual press conference.
“With all the indications, the pandemic is still ongoing and is getting worse, together with the lingering problem with ASF. However, our target is still at 2% since other subsectors are improving such as the rice subsector,” he added.
The 2% growth this year for the agriculture sector would be an improvement after the 1.2% contraction seen in 2020, and the 0.3% growth in 2019. Farm output contributes about a tenth to gross domestic product (GDP) and a fourth of the country’s jobs.
In 2020, the farm sector reeled from the effects of the prolonged lockdowns, the ASF outbreak, and a string of strong typhoons in the latter part of the year. The country’s GDP contracted by a record 9.6% last year.
Agricultural production continued its slump, declining by 3.3% in the first quarter this year.
Despite the lower growth target for 2021, Mr. Dar said palay (unmilled rice) production is expected to reach 20.4 million metric tons (MT), one million MT more than the previous record harvest of 19.4 million MT in 2020.
The DA chief said farm and fisheries production can still improve with the help of modern technology, a higher budget, and more investments from local governments and the private sector.
Mr. Dar previously announced that the Agriculture department is seeking a P250-billion budget for 2022, versus its P80-billion budget this year.
Calixto V. Chikiamco, Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF) president, said the department’s adjusted growth target is a reasonable short-term objective, but will be difficult to achieve with the ongoing pandemic and ASF outbreak.
“It is more likely way below 2%. But the DA’s target is a reasonable short-term target, given the pandemic and the ASF plague on the hog industry,” Mr. Chikiamco said via mobile phone message.
However, Mr. Chikiamco said the government needs to solve the issue of land fragmentation in agriculture.
“Unless the problem of land fragmentation is fixed, sustaining annual agriculture growth at 3% to 4% for the long term is unattainable,” Mr. Chikiamco said.
“Secretary Dar is trying to solve the problem with ‘farm clustering.’ However, this is only a band-aid solution. The real solution is to free the rural land market so farm consolidation can take place via ownership and leasing,” he added.
In a mobile phone message, Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) Executive Director Jayson H. Cainglet said the DA’s growth target is an “empty number.”
Instead, Mr. Cainglet said the DA should support local production and hasten the establishment of first border inspection facilities to prevent the entry of animal diseases such as ASF.