By Madelaine B. Miraflor
Farm output and its value have both slid during the first quarter of the year, an unlikely trend since cost of agriculture products have been on the rise since last year.
The country’s agriculture further slowed down to a growth of 0.67 percent in the first quarter of the year, coming from a measly growth of 1 percent in the whole year of 2018, a data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed.
Farm prices have also slid for the first time in more than a year, with the entire sector ending with lower gross value of P429.7 billion, a reduction of 3.12 percent from previous year’s level of P443.5 billion and a whopping 21 percent decline from the P521.2-billion gross value in 2018.
This, as farmers received lower prices for crops, poultry, and livestock. On the average, prices received by farmers decreased by 3.76 percent during the period.
In a text message exchange, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol only shrugged this off, saying prices will soon see a recovery. He also thinks the country will still end up with higher agriculture production.
“We [still] project positive growth for 2019,” Piñol said. “For rice prices, it will stabilize from this level now [while] for corn, it will recover especially with the growth of poultry and livestock.”
To recall, the Department of Agriculture (DA) had set its growth rate target for 2019 at 3.5 percent.
This was after the sector’s annual growth rate crawled to a growth of 1.04 percent in 2018 due to several typhoons, including Super-typhoon Ompong. But because of higher fuel tax, which eventually drove inflation, the sector’s output was valued higher by 4 percent to P521.2 billion throughout the year.
The same trend occured for several quarters, except for the first three months of this year. This, as the gross value of crops production went down by 6.41 percent to P235.4 billion during the period.
Crops, which accounted for 52.71 percent of the total agricultural output, also contracted by 1.01 percent after palay and corn production declined by 4.46 percent and 2.07 percent, respectively. Production decreases were also noted among the major crops such as banana, pineapple, coffee, mango, tobacco, peanut, cassava, garlic and rubber.
The decline in the price of palay was largely blamed to the passage of Rice Tariffication Law, which is set to allow the free flowing importation of rice.
Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) and Federation of Free Farmers Cooperatives (FFFC) earlier said that even before the Law could take effect, palay prices have already gone down to as low as P14 per kilo, or P6 per kilo lower than their levels last year.
“If this trend continues, farmers will end up losing P75 billion in 2019 alone for the palay they sell to the local market,” the groups said in a joint statement.
“Once the tariffication law takes effect, more imports are expected to come in and further depress prices, resulting in even more losses to farmers who are already reeling from the effects of the El Niño drought,” they added.
Rice and corn, during the past months, were also badly hit by El Niño. As of two weeks ago, the damages and losses the agriculture sector incurred from El Niño already amounted to P7.96 billion compared to the P5 billion worth of damages recorded four weeks ago.
The size of agriculture areas damaged by the phenomenon also grew larger from 177,743 hectares during DRRM’s April 1 report to 277,890 hectares as of April 25, while the damaged farm output in terms of volume grew from 276,568 metric tons (MT) to 447,889 MT.
Meanwhile, livestock production posted a 1.25 percent increment in the first three months of the year. lt contributed 17.11 percent to the total agricultural production. Its gross value amounted to P75.4 billion at current prices or 0.25 percent lower from last year’s level.
Production of poultry, on the other hand, increased by 5.41 percent during the quarter. lt shared 16.74 percent in the total agricultural output.
However, at current prices, the gross value of poultry production amounted to P55.4 billion, a decline by 3.66 percent this period.
Fisheries production, which inched up by 0.97 percent, contributed 13.45 percent to the total agricultural production. The gross value of fisheries production at current prices amounted to P63.5 billion or up by 7.81 percent from the previous year’s record.
Overll, Piñol has remained optimistic as he pins his hopes on rice, fisheries, and livestock.
“Rice will recover. Fisheries is growing little by little while poultry and livestock are expected to grow even with volatile prices. The devastation of the hog industry of China and other neighboring countries in the region will create a huge gap in pork supply and it is expected to spur the development of the Philippine hog industry,” Piñol further said.