Executive Director's Corner

Reviving Visayas agriculture and fishery

Posted on January 06, 2014 08:20:08 PM

Reviving Visayas agriculture and fishery (a Marshall Plan?)

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Map Insights
Rolando Dy

THE DEVASTATION inflicted by Yolanda on the Visayas region calls for outside-the-box strategic thinking. Millions of coconut trees were toppled. Thousands of small boats and large areas of fishponds were destroyed. Millions of lives were disrupted, perhaps forever.

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Official data shows that the size of coconut areas in the region are as follows: Eastern Visayas 419,540 hectares; Central Visayas 128,660 hectares; and Western Visayas 121,152 hectares. Altogether, the total area would be nearly 669,353 hectares, or 19% of the national area planted to coconut.

Hard-hit were: Leyte 167,973 hectares; Eastern Samar 62,357 hectares; and Western Samar 50,150 hectares. Aklan and Capiz also suffered heavily.

The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) estimated the damage at around 10,000 hectares which is only 7% of the regional total, and less than 1% of the national total. An industry player said that the area damage estimate is highly conservative. This is reflected by the fact that the world market prices reacted as prices rose to $1,350 per ton of coconut oil from $1,100 per ton before Yolanda, or a 22% jump.

There are large areas planted to rice in these provinces. The three regions account for almost 10% of palay areas. Irrigated rice areas total some 500,000 hectares, a large part in Leyte and Iloilo. The national and communal systems will need repairs.

In coastal barangays, coconut and fishing are twin occupations. It appears that low coconut productivity and sustenance fishing generate low income and, in turn, high poverty.

Poverty in the regions, measured by family income, was 37.2% in 2012 in Eastern Visayas, 28.8% in Central Visayas, and 24.7% in Western Visayas compared to 22.3% for the country. The poorest provinces are: Eastern Samar 59.4%, Northern Samar 43.7%, and Western Samar 36%. Leyte has a lower poverty rate of 31.9%. Eastern Samar, Leyte, northern Cebu, Northern Iloilo, Capiz, Aklan, and northern Antique all suffered devastation.

Will it be business-as-usual strategies and solutions again? With low farm productivity, what are the future options for small farms and subsistence fishing, and what are our options?

Though the crisis has spawned numerous problems, it also presents us with opportunities. Rehabilitation needs a long-term plan. There are short-term, medium-term and long-term strategies and key result areas that need to be formulated to achieve the objective of sustainable rural incomes. Hiring technical experts on land suitability is imperative.

First, small-scale fishing needs to be brought back to its feet quickly. According to a University of Asia and the Pacific study, there were about 3,350 motorized boats and 975 non-motorized boats in 2008 in Guiuan, Eastern Samar alone. There are thousands more boats in the fishing towns of Ajuy, Estancia and Concepcion in Iloilo. Thousands of hectares of fishponds in Capiz need repair.

Crops like sweet potato, corn, mongo and peanuts can be planted as they have gestations of less than four months. There is urgent need for planting materials as well as farm tools.

Other options are banana, pineapple and cassava. Lakatan banana can be harvested in 11 to 12 months. It is for local consumption. Saba or the bigger cardava mature in 18 to 20 months, and 16 months thereafter. It is raw material for banana chips for exports. Pineapple takes 18 months. Cassava takes about a year and is raw material for feeds and alcohol. Incidentally, in 2012, Taiwan exported over $1.2 billion of baked products, driven by bakeries that ship pineapple cakes to China, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore.

There is a need to heavily fertilize standing coconuts so that they can recover in three years or less. However, this is only a partial solution. A better option is to replace them with other crops. First is planting density: will three hybrid coconut seedlings per point work to make the trees wind-resistant? Hybrids can bear fruit in three to four years. According to an expert, it will take one year to multiply dwarf hybrids good for planting 10,000 hectares. These hybrids have been in field stations since 15 years ago, but there were no funds for multiplication.

Second, consider cacao and coffee as intercrop. They bear fruits in two years. Third, oil palm bears fruit in 2.5 years, but needs about 6,000 hectares for a mill. According to Agusan and Davao planters, oil palm survived the strong winds of typhoon Pablo in 2012.

A fruit with multiple uses is jackfruit. I was a jackfruit grower in the past in my backyard. It is a good table fruit, and good for processing. Dried jackfruit from the Visayan State University is of excellent quality, better than its Thailand and Vietnam counterparts. The fruit processors are also short of guyabano.

Rubber, depending on management practice, can be tapped in 4.5 to six years. An entrepreneur from North Cotabato planted 20 hectares of rubber trees near Ormoc, Leyte. Some 25% of the trees survived. The key to survival, he believed, is heavy pruning

First, given the massive challenge of rehabilitation, where will project management expertise come from? Second, to attain scale in processing, marketing and technical services, production areas must be consolidated. Where will ready-to-develop areas come from? Among these are 172 agrarian reform communities in Eastern Visayas.

Third, how will the supply of seeds and seedlings be fast-tracked? Fourth, in order to attain high productivity, the farm inputs and good farm practice must be delivered. Fifth, where will workers’ subsistence wages come from during the growing stage of the long-gestating crops? And there is the whole concern on the markets and logistics for these commodities. Who will orchestrate the rehabilitation of these areas using these more profitable crops?

The task of rehabilitation and sustainable farming is the major challenge. We will need the help of experts, local and foreign. It is not the time to demonstrate hubris but to roll up our sleeves. The alternative, as we have seen, is that scarce public resources are pocketed by the influential few in our society. Let us prevent them from doing this.