by ERNESTO T. SOLIDUM
Underdevelopment In Agriculture
Leads To Poverty
“Agriculture for Asean Integration” is the topic of this week’s Kapihan at Carmen Hotel. The guests are: Dr. Eden Bautista – ATI Region 6, Mr. Alexander I. Ramos – ASU–ECS, Dr. Lelisa J. Teodosio – Dean, College of Agriculture, Forestry & Environment, Dr. Paterno Rebuelta, Researcher ASU and Ms. Ferlina B. Galvan, Jr., Coconut Development Officer, PCA.
Atty. Ronquillo C. Tolentino expressed keen interest in developing agriculture in Aklan since it is our economic base along with tourism. For the last 14 years, the 10 member nations of Asean has addressed priority issues of narrowing the developmental gap where pockets of underdevelopment persist. These are on political security, socio-cultural and economic community. So far, working groups are organized on each area of concern which formulate general advice and policy guidelines in the implementation of the Initiative for Asean Integration, said the prominent journalist.
Dr. Bautista said that Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) based at ASU Banga has a mandate to deliver agricultural extension services to farmers, agriculture technologists and other stakeholders concerned with food security. Short term production modules like organic farming on rice, vegetables fruits, food processing, preservation, and utilization, backyard poultry and livestock raising are conducted by subject matter specialists. ATI Training Staff members also conduct follow ups and evaluation of projects done by ATI graduates. Those found successful are accredited as extension service providers, averred the lady executive.
ASU is accredited as Center of Development in Agriculture and as such is committed to develop and strengthen community-based organizations said Dr. Rebuelta. He coordinates with PCA on Kaanib organizations in San Jose, Ibajay and in Tambuan, Malinao. Capability building program is rendering technical assistance on intercropping coconuts with coffee and vegetables.
Dr. Teodosio believes the reason why agriculture and forestry courses do not attract Filipino youth is that farming is boring and future seems very unstable. Is it because it requires technical skill and dirtying one’s hands? Result is less number of graduates in agriculture abdicating farming to 59 years old farmers considered as a spent force. However, the UN-FAO has declared that the world needs to increase agriculture productivity by 60 percent in this decade to avert potential risk of social, economic and political instability.
PCA is created by PD 232 that mandates the development not only of the coconut industry but also of palm oil said Ms. Galvan. The Agency is implementing the participatory coco replanting program that gradually eliminates senile and diseased coco trees (60 years old and above) and replanting them with locally available seed nuts. Financing is P7.00 per seed nut sown, P7.00 for every seedling that grows to about 2 feet tall within 5 months. Afterwards, the amount of P16.00 per tree is given when it is about 1 meter tall. PCA also assists in fertilization, intercropping, timber disposal and utilization and organization of viable micro enterprises that would become coconut hubs in the future. Our Coconut Development Officers are indeed few but are striving to intensify farmers’ education on coco agro technology, underscored Ms. Galvan.
The Comparative Farm Productivity Report of ADB in 2009 shows that the Philippines is at the bottom list of Asean countries which are Indonesia which has $650, Vietnam - $1,062, Thailand - $1,760, Malaysia - $2,680 and Philippines - $340. It is also significant to note that our advanced neighbors have successfully obliterated rural poverty within 3 decades while the Philippines despite its rich natural resources and skilled manpower have not solve the problem.
Despite 7.2 percent GDP growth in 2013, the Philippines has not achieved inclusive growth manifested in increased employment opportunities and reduced poverty incidence. World Bank (WB) seeks to halve extreme poverty by 2020. WB Pres. Jim Young said that global poverty must be halved in 7 years if it is to reach a more ambitious target set for 2030.
Dr. Ambrosio R. Villorente is disillusioned why the Philippines is food deficit in leading commodities – rice, corn, vegetables, fruits, meat and eggs, milk and dairy products when we have the internationally renowned institutions namely: UPLB, IRRI and Philrice. The question is, are we prepared for eventual Asean integration in 2015?
The plain answer is no. Following are some of the issues and concern on agriculture:
a) Limited budget for agriculture – Despite Agriculture and Fisheries MODERNIZATION Act of 1997 the national budget for agriculture is less than 2 percent of the GDP. The UN Development Programme recommends a minimum of 7 percent. The province of Aklan appropriates a dismal amount of a P10.8 million out of its P1.3 billion 2014 budget or just enough for salaries of personnel.
b) Miniscule budget for Research and Development (R&D) – the amount allocated for R&D is ½ of 1 percent. Developed countries like Japan, US, Germany and South Korea expend 5-7 percent of GDP since R&D is crucial to innovativeness and global competitiveness of their products.
c) Failure to industrialize the Tree of Life known as the coconut – the Philippines has 3.56 million hectares of cocal land. A farmer normally cultivates a hectare planted on the average from 100-150 coco trees each yielding from 8-10 nuts. A good harvest yields 1,500 nuts that translates into 325 kgms. of copra every quarter. Earnings reached about P150 per day or even less counting the expense of harvesting and hauling. With 6-8 children, coco farmers are classified as the poorest of the poor.
d) The above scenario could be reconfigured if farmers adopt modern farm practices like fertilizing, seed selection, weeding and pest control. It also pays to choose wet process of coco oil extraction. The latter allows processing of by-products like coconut husks, shells, water and meat into various economic uses. It must be underscored that potential yield of coconut is 4.0 metric tons per hectare per year instead of 1.2 metric tons.
It is unfortunate that we failed to exploit the 1007 uses of coconut from its roots to the leaves. Findings show buko juice as excellent energy drink, virgin coconut oil has anti microbial properties, coco sugar is ideal for diabetics since it has low glycemic index, coco coir for ropes, strings, floor and doormats and geotextiles, coco shells for charcoal and materials for handicraft and accessories, coco leaves to make brooms, baskets and mats and coco trunk as source of lumber, furniture and even paper pulp.
Based on data, Aklan has a total coconut area of 39,358.6 hectares the biggest in Western Visayas. Yet Aklan does not have any coco oil mill or integrated oil mill facility that can process the whole coconut into various industrial products.
Considering the finances the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Aklan through its Committee Chairman on Agriculture and Cooperatives must pass legislation/resolution addressed to DA seeking appropriate assistance from the coco levy that was contributed by small farmers in 1973-1982.
d) Agriculture is in disarray because its program and projects are devolved to LGU’s. There’s a saying that “many cooks spoil the broth”. We need to emphasize that agriculture is both a science, an art and a business. Yet we allow politicians to meddle in areas most likely they do not understand or disinterested in. Although there can be exemptions to the rule, their number is negligible.
It is very obvious the road to industrialization starting with coconut could be arduous and challenging but well worth the price. It only needs patience and motivations to move on. /MP