Despite our being a largely agricultural country, it is a sad fact that agriculture is still a sector that is overlooked by many businessmen and investors. The newer generations whose parents grew up as farmers, whether in small landholdings or in larger haciendas or livestock farms are more likely to stay away from the sector and engage in other businesses or professions.
The bill filed by party-list Rep. Sharon Garin called House Bill 3354 or the Entrepreneurial Education Act is a good move towards restoring the dignity of the agricultural profession and removing the negative impression that agriculture is less of a profitable venture than others. The bill will create a ladderized system of agricultural education and training in the collegiate level, and the Dept. of Agriculture will implement and manage the program which will effectively function as a manpower development plan. The Agricultural Training Institute under the DA will partner with the private sector and NGOs for the program implementation.
The Philippines lags behind all our other neighbors in the region as far as mechanization is concerned and this is one area that the government needs to address. Still, we are happy to note that there have been some major developments in the agri front, including our small steps into mechanization.
*A new, and first, farm mechanization technology was officially launched in the current administration-a 10-row Onion Mechanical Seeder (10-ROMS) will now be commercialized within the year. PhilMech scientists, engineers and researchers have successfully launched this machine which can increase yield by 2 to 2.5 metric tons per hectare and reduce production cost, giving onion farmers additional income of as much as P12,000.00 per hectare. The combination of a 2-wheel tractor and 10-ROMS costs a hefty P240,000.00, but the returns are worth it. PhilMech also launched a rubberized conveyor, a one-horsepower electric motor for onion sorting with a capacity of 800-900 sacks per day. Let us have more of these local inventions from PhilMech. Perhaps with some support or subsidies from the national government, they would be more affordable to the small farmers.
*Mango continues to be the Philippines' pride as far as fresh produce is concerned. There are many provinces that lay claim to growing the best-tasting mangoes in the country, but the Dept. of Agriculture under Sec. Manny Pinol has chosen Bataan for its pilot program to ramp up mango production. Under this program, old mango trees will be revived and a new technology from Italy that promises to extend the shelf life of mango fruits using a special wax may also be adopted. This is good news for mango growers and exporters.
*The American Heart Association's advisory that consumption of coconut oil is unhealthy because it is considered a saturated fat has dealt the Philippine coconut industry a mighty blow, but the United Coconut Association of the Philippines (UCAP) is undaunted. In disputing this negative claim, UCAP released the positions of some scientists and professionals, among them Dr. Fabian M. Dayrit of the Ateneo de Manila University and Dr. Bruce Fife, a USA Certified Nutritionist and Doctor of Naturopathy Medicine that essentially state that coconut oil is a healthy type of fat and consuming coconut oil increases both HDL and the good LDL, thus lowering the risk of heart disease.
The Philippine coconut industry, sluggish in recent years, has rebounded from its dismal moniker of a sunset industry. This industry is no longer reliant on copra and virgin coconut oil alone as the market for coco water, activated carbon from coco shell, and geo-textiles from coco coir are expanding. A growth of as much as 90% in the volume of coco oil exports has been recorded by the industry. Also included here are hydrogenated coconut oil, coconut chips, coconut sugar and, would you believe, export of "bukayo". The Philippine Coconut Authority plans to increase the hectarage of coconut trees from the current 3.4 to 4.4 million hectares within seven years. Kudos for this resurgence.
*An interesting plan of Agriculture Secretary Pinol is the leasing of government land that includes watershed areas for up to 50 years to private companies with agro-forestry and reforestation projects. This is a good way to promote agro-forestry farming and reforestation. The Kalayaan watershed area, the Sierra Madre mountain range, the Pampanga River and the Panay watershed areas as well as the Mindanao River Basin have been identified for the program which will focus on tree species that can be harvested in 5 to 10 years. The long-term goal is to reforest one million hectares of land within 3 to 5 years, and the DA hopes to work hand in hand with the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Under the proposed program, poor families in the identified areas who plant 500 tree seedlings can earn an incentive of about P5,000.00/month for a specified number of growing seedlings.
*Unilever Philippines completed its P1.7 billion food factory, the Cavite Foods Factory and the company has just received its halal certification this year, paving the way for the Philippines to be a major player in the global halal food industry. The potential of this growing market is yet to be realized by the country, and this is indeed a major step towards this. Exports of halal-certified foods are now centered in Malaysia and Australia, but this will soon be expanded.
Unilever is one multinational company that believes in our potential and continues to invest heavily in the Philippines. Benjie Yap is now the Unilever Philippines chairman and CEO, the first Filipino to hold this position in more than 30 years.
*Mindanao is so rich in agro resources but the region has so much unrealized potentials. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has agreed to lend Land Bank of the Philippines P1.76 billion that will jumpstart agribusiness investments in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). HARVEST (Harnessing Agribusiness Through Robust and Vibrant Entrepreneurship Support of Peaceful Transformation) is just one of the projects in our list for financing by Japan with very, very low interest rates that qualify them as semi-grants. With the HARVEST fund proceeds, the government hopes to improve farming techniques and raise farmers' incomes in the ARMM region and financing will be made available to agribusiness enterprises, farmers' organizations and cooperatives, micro, small and medium enterprises, and corporation-managed farms supported by Land Bank in conflict-affected areas.
The above are just some of the noteworthy programs of the Dept. of Agriculture that, we hope, will boost this sector and improve the lives of and give dignity to the Filipino farmer.
Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.
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