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[box type=”default” size=”large”] New DA programs, priorities bared at convocation [/box]

QUEZON CITY – New Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol said the programs and priorities of the Department of Agriculture (DA) will address, among others, the adverse effects of climate change in the agriculture-fishery sector.

“It has now become a must for this country to achieve sufficiency in rice and other basic food commodities. It is no longer a choice,” Piñol said during a convocation with DA employees last July 5.

The new agriculture chief announced he has formulated a Rice Productivity Enhancement (RIPE) program which calls for a comprehensive review of water management and irrigation policies, conduct of a nationwide soil analysis, an extensive program to improve rice farming technology, introduction of high-yielding rice varieties, effective soil rehabilitation and fertilizer program and use of modern and post-harvest facilities.

A caucus held recently at the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB) focused on these priorities as the country’s top six farmers (whose harvests reach 8-2 metric tons per hectare) were invited to share their best practices in rice farming.

Pinol noted that there is a potential to significantly increase the rice production from the current national average harvest of 4 MT/hectare. “How do they do it? We will listen to these farmers’ stories. All the directors, all the USECs will be there. We will listen to them, we will learn from them,” he said.

He also called for increase in the production of white corn in an effort to meet  the grain requirements of the people in provinces such as Negros Oriental, Siquijor, Bohol, Cebu, Biliran, Leyte, Southern Leyte, the three provinces of Samar and Northern Mindanao. “If there is rice sufficiency, there must be also corn sufficiency,” he added.

In the livestock and poultry industry, the new DA chief wants to lessen shipments of raw imported materials such as soya and fish meal with the end in view of cutting production cost.

In the fisheries sector, he directed the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to launch an anti-illegal fishing drive and a three-month closed season during the spawning period of specific fish species in various regions. It is a replication of the strategy carried out in Zamboanga.

To expand the programs for fish and marine product sufficiency, the DA will launch a countrywide search for the cleanest coastal communities with the following criteria:

  1. absence of illegal fishing;
  2. observance of closed season;
  3. well-protected marine sanctuary;
  4. garbage-free coastal area; and
  5. sustained mangrove protection and rehabilitation program. The winner will receive a Presidential Award and P10-million livelihood fund.

Piñol cited the need to beef up support for the culture and production of high- value fish such as lapu-lapu and maya-maya, stressing this will enrich the country’s marine resources.

“The most critical preparation for climate change is in the area of water conservation and management,” he said. To deal with the issues of agriculture sustainability and climate change resiliency, he is planning to undertake tree-growing projects in denuded mountain regions and to launch programs calling for the construction of water-impounding dams.

He wants to assign upland families as forest caretakers for his agro-forestry program, which aims to employ residents in upland areas to monitor a designated area planted to fruit-bearing trees.

On irrigation, Pinol said the Duterte administration will focus on small-based irrigation projects and solar-powered irrigation facilities not only for farming, but also for drinking and electricity purposes.

The new agriculture secretary also supports a plan for growing vegetables in urban areas through a project dubbed “Vegetable Gardens in the City,” that uses the advanced Israeli Green House Technology. This project will mobilize urban poor families and will involve local government units.

In addition, Piñol is likewise eyeing tilapia fish farms along the riverbanks instead of fish cages, to contribute to the efforts at food sufficiency. (DA-AFID)