UA&P downgrades 2010 farm sector growth to 0.5%-1.5%

By Rocel Felix,

Posted at Jul 15 2010 08:35 PM | Updated as of Jul 16 2010 04:43 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Center for food and Agribusiness of the University of Asia & the Pacific (CFA-UA&P) downgraded its farm sector growth forecast for 2010 to half a percent to 1.5% from 3-4% due largely to the impact of weather abnormalities.

Rolando Dy, executive director of the CFA-UA&P said on Thursday that the revision in its previous forecast had to be done to take into account the extent of the damage of the El Niño phenomenon in the first half, as well as the potential damage of an equally destructive weather abnormality anticipated in the second half of the year- the La Niña.

While El Niño parched thousands of farm lands, including rice crops, the La Niña phenomenon is expected to inundate farm lands resulting from excess rainfall brought by typhoons during the months from August to October.

"We had not foreseen the extent of El Niño in the first half. Also, there was little government spending in the sector even if it was the national selections. Usually, the poultry and hogs sectors see an uptick during elections, but not so much this year, spending was not substantial to make a real impact on these sub-sectors," said Dy in an agribusiness forum.

CFA-UA&P's revised forecast is lower than the Department of Agriculture's (DA) projected growth of 2.5%. The farm sector contracted by 2.8% in the first quarter.

CFA-UA&P expects a mild recovery in the second half, with rice production recovering from the effects of the El Niño.

Dy said however, that the DA's target of 17.4 million metric tons may be difficult to achieve given the projection of crop losses of the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics until the third quarter, and which may be compounded by the likelihood of the occurrence of La Niña.

"Better growth may prevail for palay in 2011 with near normal weather conditions. Also, the provision of appropriate funds for the rice program will be a key in realizing the different production and post-harvest aspects of the crop, like the expansion of hybrid rice areas, said Dy.

Re-thinking rice program

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said in the same forum that the DA is now reviewing its rice production program to determine how to accelerate its thrust of achieving self-sufficiency in rice by 2013.

Alcala for one, has a different view of the much-touted hybrid price production program being pushed by the previous administration. He said he has no objections to the existing program, but there should be other alternatives that farmers can adopt.

"I have no quarrel with hybrid rice production, but my thinking is that it shouldn't be that it's hybrid rice production or non at all. We should give farmers more choices."

Currently, only 10% of farmers are into hybrid rice production, 30% are using certified seed varieties, while 60% are using other rice seed varieties.

Farmers are not keen on using hybrid rice seeds despite its proven higher yields because production costs are higher, and is only good for planting during the dry season. The seeds on other hand, cannot be reproduced, unlike other seed varieties.

"If we can just convert those 60% to use certified seeds, then that would be a big deal in our efforts to be self-sufficent in rice," said Alcala.

Alcala said the department will be creating a better protocol for providing certified seeds, wherein certified varieties will vary depending on the requirements of a region.

"These seeds will really need to be truly certified, which means the yields will be the same for all farms," attributing the reluctance of farmers to use certified seeds because of the prevailing practice of many unscrupoulous seed growers of passing off uncertified seeds as certified.

He said that the government will be boosting rice production annually while gradually reducing rice importation, until the country has enough stock to do away with imports in 2013.

Despite record production, the country has become the world's largest rice importer, and bought this year a record 2.45 million metric tons.

The government said the importations were necessary to compensate for the losses brought about by the dry spell, as well as to meet growing consumption per capita.