The Need To ‘Weather-Proof’ Agriculture
"Weather’-proofing" Philippine agriculture, Yap said, includes utilizing modern tools and techniques to develop the country’s risk assessment and disaster management capabilities and investing more in equipment, infrastructure, new technologies and extension services for farmers and fisherfolk to help them hurdle changing climatic conditions that have started hurting global farm yields.
Yap underscored the urgency of shielding agriculture and fisheries from the devastating effects of climate change on two major occasions. These are the "Farmers’ and Fishers" Night" sponsored by the Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC) held at the Intercontinental Hotel, Makati City, and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, Laguna last week before a visiting delegation of American government officials and business leaders led by US Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack.
Vilsack and top-level representatives of 20 agribusiness companies were in Manila for a four-day US Agribusiness Trade and Investment Mission. During the visit, they met with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo along with Yap and Cabinet officials; an inspection tour, briefings and a palay harvesting activity at IRRI; a milk and biscuit donation program; and a business forum at the Shangri-La Hotel, Makati City where the American businessmen discussed possible farm investment opportunities with about 200 local counterparts.
Yap stressed that the freak traits of Typhoons "Ondoy" and "Pepeng" plus the unprecedented level of destruction these storms had wrought on Philippine agriculture are stark reminders that climate change is already upon us and is now the No. 1 threat to global farm production. Both cyclones have caused over P18 billion-worth of damage to agriculture alone. "We are living in a climate-changed world," Yap said "Clearly, it cannot be business as usual for Philippine agriculture. It cannot be business as usual for industry. It cannot be business as usual for society. The toll on lives and the damage to infrastructure, homes, food supplies, energy and transportation have racked up losses in the Philippines in the billions of pesos," he added.
"Also in the coming years, what is very critical," Yap said, "is we have to continue investing in public infrastructure. So we’re talking about water, small-irrigation, mariculture parks that are climate-change adapted."
The government needs to act swiftly, with the help of its foreign partners, to toughen Philippine agriculture against climate change so that the country could take advantage of the countless opportunities in this labor-intensive sector, especially in the areas of mariculture and biofuel feedstock production.
"With climate change already at our doorstep," Yap pointed out, the Philippines must build its in risk assessment and disaster management utilizing available technologies such as Remote Sensing, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and climate check.
In his presentation before the Vilsack-led delegation at IRRI Yap stressed the government, through the DA, is investing more in equipment and infrastructure like irrigation works that harvest rain water (big reservoir types and small water impounding projects); all-weather roads; and post-harvest facilities such as farm mechanization, storages and warehouses.
New technologies such as drought-resistant, submergence-tolerant crop varieties should also be developed, while providing extension services, weather-based insurance and loans to farmers for production and land improvement.
Yap emphasized the need to strengthen and modernize the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics to improve its ability to track and conduct quick and effective surveys that are critical in designing and implementing programs on local and national levels.
With these programs in place, Yap hopes the Philippines can meet the ever-growing demand for biofuel feedstock locally and abroad and cash-in on this booming industry to help make agriculture a lucrative venture for its small stakeholders.
By 2014, the country would need 314,286 metric tons of coconut or another 660,000 metric tons of jatropha to produce biodiesel.
For 2011, about 17 to 20 distilleries are needed to process crops such as sugarcane (6.85 million MT), sweet sorghum (9.64 million MT) and cassava (2.98 million MT) into bioethanol to meet the local demand of 482 million liters. By 2014, the demand of 537 million liters of bioethanol is expected to be generated with the implementation of the 10 percent mandate.
With these aspirations, the Philippines must develop youthful, healthy, and intelligent capable farmers to handle agriculture and fishery industries systems responsive to the national requirement. /MP