Prioritizing Farming — BBM is on the right track

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WHEN Ferdinand E. Marcos became President in 1965, one of his priorities when he took office was to “improve agricultural productivity.”

His government encouraged the cultivation of an improved variety of rice known as IR-8. In the first four years of President Marcos’ government, rice production rose sharply and the country achieved rice self-sufficiency for the first time.

The son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., who was sworn in yesterday as the 17th President of the Republic of the Philippines, announced last week that he will also serve as Minister of Agriculture. This is a very clear sign that he will initiate policy and program reforms in the department to improve the country’s agricultural sector and hopefully alleviate the dire hardships of Filipino farmers.

As a rice farmer and poultry farmer myself, I have to commend President Bongbong Marcos’ decision to intervene directly in the administration of the Ministry of Agriculture, albeit for a short time.

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He was quoted by the media as saying: “As far as agriculture is concerned, I think the problem is so serious that I have decided to take on the portfolio of Minister of Agriculture, at least for the time being.”

Agriculture is the main sector of the economy, largely neglected during President Rodrigo Duterte’s tenure. The agricultural sector of the economy aims to produce enough food for all residents of the country. Nevertheless, food production in our country suffers from very low productivity. For example, in rice production, the Philippines lags far behind China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar.

In terms of harvest per hectare, the average annual harvest per hectare in the Philippines is only about 4,000 kilograms or four tons, while the yield in China is more than 7 tons per hectare. Indonesia’s rice yield is more than 5,113 kg and Vietnam’s yield is 5,816 kg.

Fruit and vegetables, though seasonal, are still largely supplemented by imports or smuggled into the country with the connivance of certain Agriculture Department officials. The Senate recently presented the results of its investigation into rampant smuggling of agricultural products. Senior officials from the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Customs Office were involved.

I have been involved in rice and broiler production for more than 20 years. In rice cultivation, production depends on irrigation after the rainy season. In my town of Botolan, Zambales, the irrigation services are very bad. I was twice the victim of false assurances from the provincial National Irrigation Board that there would be no problems with the water for my second crop. After I sowed and planted rice, the irrigation water dried up and the plants withered.

In the past three years, rice farmers have had to buy very expensive fertilizers. It is also very risky to use fertilizers that the DA provides to farmers for free.

Two years ago there was this aid from the DA where a farmer was asked to pay for a sack of fertilizer and got two for free. In my city, all the rice farmers who took advantage of this offer from the DA suffered a drastic decline in their crops. The fertilizer sold by the department in the Buy One Take Three deal was either diluted or counterfeit.

We rely heavily on imported chemicals to manufacture fertilizers. Certainly, the skyrocketing price of crude oil caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine will continue to drive up fertilizer prices.

At my small poultry farm in Zambales, I also deal with the production of broilers as a contract breeder. Contract farmers are responsible for their workers’ wages, the cost of LPG and electricity (used both to pump water and provide lighting).

Last Wednesday, Agriculture Minister William Dar announced that the price of fresh chicken at the market had risen to 200 pesetas. This is mainly due to higher prices for animal feed and medicines. Surely this increase in the market price of broilers is not due to contract breeders like me, since our income per broiler harvested has not increased by a single centavo for about 15 years.

As a contract breeder, our income depends on several factors such as the average live weight of the chicken harvested, mortality rate and feed conversion. The integrators are the ones who imposed these standards, and our income depends on how well we meet the standards.

The cost of LPG and electricity has increased as a result of the embargo on Russian oil and the refusal of other oil-producing countries to increase their production. Labor costs have also increased.

In fact, President Bongbong Marcos’ first year in office has been marked by many economic problems. The peso has depreciated against the US dollar. There are now very clear signals that inflation has deteriorated. The fuel price has more than doubled. Minimum wages have been increased, albeit minimally. An end to the war in Ukraine is not yet in sight. President BBM is having a very difficult first year as President. He deserves the support of the nation as he addresses the pressing issues facing our country.

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