THE PROBLEM Â of the Philippine economy is that high GDP growth rates did not yet translate into “inclusive growth”.Growth did not lift the economic standing of the many who are poor.
It is a major problem when 24 million of a nation’s people lies in abject poverty. And one of the reasons advanced is that -notwithstanding the agricultural nature of the country’s terrain- the Agriculture sector when compared to the Manufacturing and Service sectors had contributed less to the nation’s growth.
Many of these 24 million considered poor dwell in the rural areas.What ails Philippine agriculture?
A Â professor of the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA and P) Rolando Ty provided some hints to the answers in some of the chapters in his recently released book ” Agribusiness and Inclusive Growth”.
In an archipelago like ours. ,many live along the coasts but are driven to poverty due to low productivity of coconut plantations and sustenance fishing Â driven away by big-time illegal fishers. They get by life on a hand -to-mouth type of existence. Â Many of them are in the Visayas.
This poverty statistics is shown in that all the poverty incidence in the three Visayan areas: Eastern (37.2%), Central Visayas ( 28.8%) and Western Visayas ( 24.7%) Â are all Â higher than the National average of 22.3% poverty incidence.
Although the Visayas accounts for 10% of irrigated rice lands in the country or 500,000 hectares and therefore rather bountiful in rice harvests, its other agricultural produce are not doing as well. Â Take the case of coconuts.
Three million five hundred thousand hectares of land are planted with coconut but yields only a a small P1.5-Billion in output value per year- a failing grade in any international reckoning of coconut growth efficiency. The Visayas has 669,000 hectares or 19% of the total coconut area hectarage. Â With low productivity -it is Â therefore understandable that poverty rate in coconut dominated areas is a high 40%
Palm oil hectarages would yield three times value that of coconut.
Already with a people with Â marginal incomes, Yolanda and the succeeding storms uprooted millions of coconut trees and sank or damaged thousands of fishing boats Â -worsening the poverty scenario in the Visayas.
In is only our coconut oil exports that is making some headway- but the rest of the plantation Â are senile or unattended. Our only other Â meaningful agricultural exports are in bananas and pineapples but only because multinationals (like Dole, Del Monte) are involved in exporting billions of these fruits-processed and juiced, mostly from Â Mindanao.
To prove to you our agricultural exports have remained stagnant, let’s review the statistics of the agri-exports of our ASEAN neighbors: Thailand and Indonesia (about US$40-B), Malaysia (US$35-B), and even Vietnam which has just been war-ravaged is at (US$20-B_ compared to the woefully dismal Â US$-5 -B Â (only) for the Philippines.
For the average Filipino farmer-family, it must earn at least Â P90,000/year to stay above poverty level; most coco farmers barely make that.In his 2014 Pnoy SONA (State of the Nation) address, the President categorically pointed out the local coconut farmer will remain impoverish if he does not Â intercrop between coconut trees.
A hectare of pure coconuts will only yield a woeful P 20,000/year but P90,000/ha when inter-cropped with cacao and higher at P 172,000/hectare with coffee. Planting with saba ups the Â gross sales to P 192,000 (saba being Â a main ingredient of manufactured banana chips).
Of course, it is easier said than done, as soil analysis is needed for intercropping. But the good news is that Cacao and coffee bear fruit in just Â only 2 years. Â But as Professor Dy:” But who will provide the seeds, tools, long term financing and provide markets?” Aye, there’s the rub.
Even the highly virile coconut hybrid plants only become productive on the 3rd or 4th year. What will Mr Coconut Farmer do in the meantime? Memorize their meals?
There are many crops that can be cultivated beside the coconut trees. The LGUs are mandated by law (20% of their IRA should be allotted) Â -to support economic development. In the rural areas, that’s supposed to mean “support agriculture”. Â It does not always happen that way. The Book says the agricultural extension offices of the province and capital must be pro-active and competent to give sustained boost to agricultural productivity.
There are listed food crops that can complement the coconut: sweet potatoes . corn, mongo and peanuts ( productive in 4 months). The simple banana (lakatan) with high local demand can be grown in 11-12 months and saba a bit longer at 18 months.
Mr Dy’s book lists pineapple (produces in 18 months ) and casava (material for feeds and alcohol) can be made productive in 12 months.
So, why Â is our Philippine agriculture such a laggard? Lack of political will? Misplaced priorities?
As to our fisheries- it seems like a dead end corner. Unless one processes marine species Â into frozen tuna and shrimp -in huge volumes, fisher folks will continue to live on sustenance fishing. The government is not always able to run after illegal big-time fishers and dynamite users.
We cannot even begin to think of exporting fish – as we cannot even have enough volume for local consumption as to bring fish to even Â their reasonable price levels.
As of now – the irony stands. So much rural land, so much area of Â water to fish- yet so much poverty in our midst.
The answer now seems to be: plant more Â diversified crops – can Government help the local farmers?
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