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Agri prospects seen fragile due to pandemic, calamities

By Revin Mikhael D. Ochave, Reporter

PROSPECTS for growth in agriculture remain tenuous due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic, with natural disasters holding the potential to inflict setbacks, and the worst-case scenario estimated in the negative single-digit range, a professor at Pampanga State Agricultural University said.

Roy S. Kempis said in an e-mail interview the calamities can “easily” wipe out any progress made in growing agricultural output in 2021.

“My conservative estimate for the value of production of the sector in 2021 ranges from minus 0.70% to growth of 1%,” Mr. Kempis said, adding that his pessimistic scenario is between a contraction of 1% and growth of 0.8%.

Mr. Kempis said the last quarter of 2020 was not helpful to the sector with a series of typhoons causing widespread flooding and erosion.

“Whatever happens up in the skies… basically wipes out any gain through human effort to find and develop better plant varieties and animal or fish breeds to feed the growing population,” Mr. Kempis said.

Typhoon Vicky, the last typhoon to hit the Philippines in 2020, caused farm damage valued at P129.8 million, according to the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Separately, Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) Director Glenn B. Gregorio said the agricultural sector is expected to turn in negative output growth in the first quarter.

“For the first quarter of 2021, we are projecting that the overall growth rate of the volume of production in agriculture is minus 1.21%,” Mr. Gregorio said in an e-mail interview.

He expects fisheries to grow 3.05% during the quarter, offset by contractions in crops, livestock, and poultry  of 1.17%, 6.33%, and 3.99%, respectively.

He said farmers need more resilient agricultural farming systems to deal with natural hazards, such as typhoons and the pandemic, to production.

“These include improved access to climatic and weather data, stress-tolerant crop varieties, good agricultural practices, crop insurance, extension services, modern technological support, and innovative financial services,” Mr. Gregorio said.

Despite the negative estimate for the quarter, Mr. Gregorio projected growth for the rest of the year due to stronger interventions from the government and the private sector.

“We remain hopeful that 2021 is a year when the agriculture sector will significantly grow, and truly become an instrument for socio-economic transformation that centers on the well-being of the farmers and their families,” Mr. Gregorio said.

The DA is estimating a positive finish for 2020, and is adopting a much more optimistic outlook for 2021.

“In 2020, we expect modest growth of 1%. For 2021, we target a conservative 2.5% growth,” Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said in the DA’s year-end report.

“The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the global and national economy. But no matter what happens, people must eat,” he added.

The DA’s original growth target for the farm sector in 2020 was 2%, before being adjusted to 1.5%, and then finally to 1%. In 2019, the sector posted growth of 0.7%.

In the third quarter of 2020, the agriculture sector’s performance as measured by value of production returned an increase of 0.7%, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

“We must empower our farmers and fishers through collective action so they will have the opportunity to partner with the various actors in the industry. Leaving them alone will not accelerate the development of the sector,” Mr. Dar said.

In December, the DA announced an initial target for output of palay, or unmilled rice, of 20.48 million metric tons (MT) for 2021, against the 19.32 million MT target for last year.

Raul Q. Montemayor, national manager of the Federation of Free Farmers, said the agriculture sector will continue to move forward in 2021 despite the lack of optimism by most forecasters.

“People will still need to eat and farmers will continue to plant and produce food for the country even in the face of COVID, natural calamities, and other challenges,” Mr. Montemayor said in a mobile phone message.

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