DA’s Piñol sticks to PHL rice self-sufficiency goal

26.12.2017

The year 2017 could have proven itself as one of the memorable years for the agriculture sector in the early years of the Duterte administration.

For one, the Department of Agriculture (DA) is still on its quest to achieve rice self-sufficiency for the Filipinos. And this year might be one of the closest years that the country could achieve that feat, based on government estimates.

But more than this decadelong goal of sufficient staple production, 2017 tested the strength of the country’s farm sector on various issues.

The year 2017 stripped the Philippines of its decades-long claim of being one the few bird flu-free nations not only in Asia, but also in the world.

The government’s food-safety regulations and standards, likewise, were put into test, when some meat imports from Latin America were discovered to contain Salmonella.

And more recently, the Philippines’s struggle to establish a mechanism at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to protect and safeguard small-scale farmers from harmful import surges.

But for Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol, there’s only one test to gauge on how he and his department fared well with these issues: sufficient and affordable food supply.

Piñol maintains, however, it is not for him to judge on how he performed as agriculture chief this year.

“I cannot judge myself. It will be all up to the Filipino to judge my performance or the performance of my department,” he said in an interview with reporters on December 19.

“But I think the best gauge in judging the performance of my department would be in the sufficiency of basic commodities for the Filipino,” he added.

And for this aspect—of food sufficiency—Piñol is apologetic. “I’m sorry that this is not being felt by Filipino consumers because inspite our efforts to produce more, since the food-supply chain is ‘anomalous,’ we could not still bring down the prices of food. And something has really got to be done to address this.”

And, perhaps, this performance matrix could be traced back to President Duterte’s promise when he assumed office: to provide affordable food for the Filipino people.

Biggest challenge

The agriculture chief said the confirmation of the presence avian influenza (AI) in the country was the biggest challenge of his department to date.

“It was [the biggest challenge] but, at the same time, we also showed that with cooperation and support of local government units, any challenge or trial could be dealt with effectively,” Piñol  said.

“And I think we have shown that in the first hit of bird flu. And learning our lessons, we showed it in the second hit—we handled it properly and the sector was not affected,” he added.

This year the Philippines recorded four incidents of bird flu: one in Pampanga, and three in Nueva Ecija.

The confirmation of AI in the country put the whole poultry industry in a roller-coaster ride: Farm-gate prices sunk below P15 per kilogram; exports of poultry products were suspended; and a widespread panic among Filipino consumers on whether it was safe to eat fried chicken.

The outbreak of AI in the country also put into test the government’s more than a decad-old “bible” against bird flu— the AI Protection Program: Manual of Procedures (AIPP). The AI incidents in Central Luzon have queued a number of proposed revisions for the AIPP come next year.

Some of the proposals include the removal of a 1-kilometer control area and 7-kilometer quarantine area in order not to hamper the flow of poultry products in the country.

“We are amending our AI protocol because the measures we imposed really had an adverse impact on poultry growers. We are considering their economic viability because the poultry industry really suffered due to the protocols we implemented,” Piñol said in September.

To date, Philippine government officials are hoping and counting time on whether the country would be declared as a bird flu-free nation come March of next year.

Last man standing

And just before 2017 ended, the Philippines proved a point against both developed and developing countries: Don’t look down on us.

The Philippine delegation to the 11th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC11) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, stood firm of its decision to veto any new agreement on agriculture without the passage of a special safeguard mechanism (SSM) for developing and least-developed countries.

Throughout the four-day MC11, the Philippine delegation did not give in to the requests of developing countries just to come up at a middle ground during the agriculture negotiations.

After a grueling exchange of points of view and positions, the agriculture negotiations at MC11 ended in a deadlock, with the Philippines not giving up on its hope for a SSM. In a news statement issued on December 12, the Philippines said that it is “deeply regretful and disappointed” that there was no draft decision on SSM, despite the priority accorded to it under the Nairobi Declaration of 2015. At the same time, the Philippines stood firm on its decision to reject any substantive decision on agriculture sans the SSM.

“The Philippines reiterates that it could not join any consensus for adopting any draft substantive decision in the absence of a solution on SSM or through an improved SSG [special safeguard]. There simply is no sufficient political basis for us to do so,” the statement read.

The Philippines emphasized that the approval of SSM is vital for its farm sector as the present SSG proves to be inefficient and ineffective to protect its small-scale framers from import surges and price depressions.

It explained that the country’s current trigger price for corn is 5 cents per kilogram (kg), but the import price for the last three years average 31 cents.  Another example, it noted, is that the trigger price for pork imports is pegged at $36 per kg compared to $1.65 per kg average price in the past three years.

Pinol disclosed that the United States and India have vetoed already some proposals during the agriculture talks even before the Philippines could have blocked anything.

A negative opinion from any WTO member-country is enough to block any new deal because members of the multilateral trading body decide as a whole on a consensus basis.

Back to basics

And as 2017 closes its curtains, the agriculture department continues the show what Duterte wants to provide next year: a food- secure nation. “Again, as I have said, guided by the directive of the President, we will focus on what the Filipino people need,” Piñol said.

For example, Piñol added, the DA will now begin to implement its dairy program next year that seeks to boost the local milk production to meet at least 10 percent of the total annual requirement by the end of Duterte’s term.

Furthermore, Piñol emphasized that the DA will rollout programs that would seek to boost local production to meet the increasing domestic demand for commodities, such as coffee and onion, next year.

“Sabi ng Presidente, aba teka muna [The President said, wait] why don’t you focus first on the Philippine market? Why don’t you produce enough for the Philippine market and the excess will be the one that we will sell for export,” Piñol said.  “Outside of the traditional export products like our bananas, pineapples, mango and coconut, the focus of the DA is really to satisfy the local requirements of the country,” he added.


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