The wide array of fresh government initiatives to raise incomes for small farmers and fisherfolk, create more jobs especially in the countryside, and make basic commodities more accessible and affordable for ordinary consumers give reason for most Filipinos to welcome 2007 with much higher hopes for better lives, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said.
"We share this buoyant mood among most Filipinos for much better prospects in 2007, especially for the various stakeholders and dependents in the agriculture sector, considering the array of fresh farm- and consumer-friendly initiatives started by the Arroyo administration through the Department of Agriculture (DA), and which are likely to bear fruit for consumers and the rural folk in the new year," Yap said.
Yap issued the statement in the wake of the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey results showing that nine out of 10 Filipinos, representing all economic classes, await 2007 with hope rather than fear.
This 4th quarter SWS survey revealed that the "level of hopefulness" rose to 91 percent, from 85 percent in 1985. The middle to upper level (ABC) classes topped the hopefulness level with 92 percent, while Class D, representing the masa, posted a hopefulness level of 91 percent and Class E, or the poorest of the poor, also with 91 percent.
"For the President, we have not only high hopes for, but full confidence likewise in, her able leadership and vision for a country that can join the elite circle of first-world economies by 2020," Yap said. "My new year's wish is continuing good health for her and her family and national unity and greater productivity for our people in the midst of a rebounding economy driven in part by the robust performance of the agriculture and fisheries sector."
Yap said his New Year's resolution for 2007 is "better time management" so he can put sharper focus on ongoing and new DA initiatives meant to attack poverty, mitigate hunger and pull down commodity prices by creating more jobs and raising incomes in the countryside, and better managing the supply chain so as to put more affordable food on the tables of Filipino families.
He said these DA initia-tives include:
- Construction of more post-harvest and storage facilities for agricultural and fisheries products to help small farmers and fisherfolk command higher prices for their produce. The DA is assisting farmers in preserving the quality of their rice grains and reducing quantitative losses through lowcost drying systems equipped with cost-effective biomass furnaces, which will entail a total budget of P1.5 billion.Yap said farmers can raise their per-hectare yields and incomes with the use of hybrid rice technology, a component of the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani (GMA) rice program.
- Under the GMA corn program, meanwhile, the DA aims to hike productivity in existing corn farm clusters covering 468,500 hectares, enhance efficiency in post-harvest and transport logis-tics and improved marketing linkages between farmers and end-users. Installation of cold chain and delivery systems for vegetables and fruits in strategic areas with direct linkages to urban markets to help growers keep their produce fresh, eliminate unnecessary trading layers that shave off their earnings, and keep prices of these basic goods within the reach of low-income Filipinos.
- Expansion of mariculture parks with cold storages and direct links to wet markets that aims to create close to 200,000 new jobs for marginalized fishing communities and raise fisheries production to 4.7 million metric tons in 2007. Yap said the DA aims to increase four-fold the existing number of 13 maricul-ture parks by promoting partnerships with local government units on the development of fish cage areas across the country.
- Implementation of a coconut rehabilitation prog-ram that focuses on teaching farmers to diversify and tap other uses for this versatile farm product through inter-cropping, livestock dispersal, production of coco coir, and coco biodiesel.
- Repair and rehabilitation of irrigation facilities and other rural infrastructure to further raise perhectare harvests and keep agricultural production targets on track
- Development of new lands for agribusiness consisting of hybrid corn production in 45,900 hectares; corn as intercrop in 18,000 hectares of coconut lands and cassava and soybean production in 37,000 hectares of new farms as part of the goal to cultivate two million hectares of additional croplands to create at least two million of the 10 million jobs targeted by 2010. Yap said this initiative includes the promotion of ethanol projects so as to entice foreign investors to plant sugarcane and other pro-ducts in idle but arable lands as feedstock for the local ethanol program.
- Maintaining the Philip-pines' status as a leader in abaca production by undertaking the rehabilitation of all typhoon-hit abaca lands in the Bicol region through replanting; strengthening of existing abaca nurseries; encouraging farmers to plant short-gestating cash crops by providing seeds to them; repairing destroyed tissue culture laboratories, greenhouses and other damaged facilities; intensifying the campaign on the harvesting of fallen mature stalks to minimize fiber shortage.Yap said the DA will also encourage farmers to tap under-harvested planta-tions, particularly in the Visayas and Mindanao, and assist abaca pulp and cordage processors in tapping soft loans from the Agricultural Competitiveness and Enhancement Fund (ACEF) to help repair their damaged facilities.
Yap said the DA launched in the latter part of 2006 an array of anti-poverty and anti-hunger projects meant to benefit an initial 400,000 rural and urban families.
The Arroyo administration is meeting head-on the lingering hunger and poverty concerns with such DA initiatives, he said, as the Gulayan ng Masa, Manukan Para sa Masa, Isdaan Para sa Masa, and the Barangay Food Terminal projects.
A "deep concern" over the results of an earlier SWS survey pointing to a high incidence of hunger and poverty had prompted Pre-sident Arroyo in the middle of 2006 to order the DA to attack these nagging woes by initiating or speeding up the implementation of programs and projects that would increase farm productivity, create jobs or other livelihood opportunities, and pull down the cost of essential goods mainly for the benefit of poor consumers.
"President Arroyo is fully aware that the nascent rebound of the economy will remain as cold statistics to ordinary Filipinos unless this turnaround can put a dent on the high incidence of hunger and poverty by way of more jobs and livelihood opportunities for them and their easier access to more affordable foodstuff," Yap said.
"Hence, her marching orders for the DA during the past two quarters was to put on the fast track an array of initiatives that would address her concerns for the Filipino majority," he said. "But these projects will naturally take a while to run their course, hence our expectations for such undertakings to have a positive impact on ordinary Filipinos sometime in 2007."
According to Yap, the Gulayan ng Masa project, which is meant to provide backyard vegetable-growing opportunities to unemployed Filipinos, has so far benefited 13,669 families, or 78 percent of the 17,000 target family-beneficiaries for the July-December period.
So far, 9,878 families were able to harvest vegetables from their own backyards, indicating a 48 percent accomplishment rate. This Gulayan project is eyeing 207,403 beneficiary-households in 2007.
Barangay Food Terminal outlets, meanwhile, are already benefiting 118,697 families, and are expected to cover another 556,591 once all the planned additional outlets are set up next year, Yap said.
He added that the Manukan Para Sa Masa project, which lets families have a source of food and protein (eggs and chicken meat), and the Isdaan Para sa Masa, which provides catfish as a source of food and income, aims to benefit over 130,000 families in 2007.