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A mechanization program for Philippine agriculture

ANY anti-poverty program in the country will have to include agricultural development as most of the country’s poor people live in the rural areas.

At the start of the previous Aquino administration, the Department of Agriculture launched a long-range plan for self-sufficiency in rice, the country’s most important crop. Its scientists and researchers developed new rice varieties that were not only high-yielding but were also resistant to floods, droughts, and common plant diseases.

That program for self-sufficiency, however, was not able to achieve its goal. The country continues to import hundreds of thousands of metric tons of rice from Thailand and Vietnam.

The new Duterte administration hopes to break this chain of endless rice importations. One initiative is a plan to provide rice farmers with free irrigation water. A R2-billion fund has been included in the recently approved National Budget for 2017 to cover the funds usually collected by the National Irrigation Administration from farmers.

A Free Irrigation and Reform and Restructuring Act is now in Congress to make free irrigation a government policy.

It is believed that the key to modernizing Philippine agriculture is mechanization and Japan, whose Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently visited the Philippines, has agreed to help in a farm mechanization project that will cost about R1 billion.

It will initially cover 10,000 hectares, divided into ten modules, run by farmers’ associations who will be provided with tractors, transplanters, harvesters, drying facilities, storage facilities, and rice processing facilities. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) will pay half the cost of the equipment. It will provide the needed technology not only to carry out efficient planting but also to stop the post-harvest losses that are now set at 23 percent of harvests.

Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the JICA-supported project should serve as a demonstration to the nation’s farmers to show the big difference farm mechanization can make. He has also begun meeting with the nation’s top business leaders for assistance in financing and marketing.

New high yielding rice varieties, free irrigation, financing and marketing, and now mechanization – when all these components fall into place, we should see the long-awaited renaissance in Philippine agriculture.