, May 15 , 2004
By Rocel C. Felix  -  The agriculture sector which comprises a fifth of the country’s total economic output, bucked dry weather, particularly in Luzon, to post a rip-roaring year- on-year growth of 8.16 percent in the first quarter this year, the highest growth rate in the last 15 years.

The first quarter growth in the agriculture sector, which employs more than half of the country’s workforce marks a big leap from the fourth quarter growth of 5.6 percent in 2003 and the first quarter growth of 3.43 percent during the same year.

Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr. said strong performances were turned in by most sub-sectors, particularly the fisheries sector which posted the highest growth of 20.84 percent, followed by crops which improved by 6.22 percent, poultry by 3.4 percent and livestock by 3.32 percent.

All this, he said, was due to the "timely critical interventions" made by the Arroyo administration such as the use of modern farm technologies, improved seeds and other farm inputs and adoption of proper policies.

With such a strong performance in the first quarter, hopes run high that the agriculture sector will exceed this year’s growth target of four percent, provided budgetary support is steady to keep critical interventions possible.

Congress appropriated only P15.4 billion for the DA in 2004. This is 26 percent lower than the proposed budget of P20.9 billion. This year’s budget is also 35 percent lower than what the Agricultural Fisheries and Modernization Act (AFMA) provides for, and eight percent lower than the 2003 allocation. It is also the DA’s lowest budget in real terms or if one takes into account inflation.

Data from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics show that total value of agricultural production rose 13.83 percent to P192 billion at current prices between January and March this year, or more than double the 6.72 percent growth rate registered in the same period of 2003.

Crops, which accounted for half of the total value of farm production, did well largely because palay farmers were able to harvest a record 3.43 million metric tons (MT) in the 2004 first quarter, up 13.14 percent from 3.03 million MT last year. Corn farmers performed as well, increasing their output by 13.37 percent to 1.53 million MT from 1,35 million MT during the period.

Lorenzo said the good rice harvest was the result of expansion in irrigated areas due to repair of existing facilities and operation of new irrigation systems, increased plantings and improved productivity due to wider use of hybrid seeds and other farm inputs.

He said corn output also went up due to expanded harvest areas, favorable weather and due to improved yield especially among farmers in Cagayan Valley, Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, Northern Mindanao, SOCSARGEN, and llocos where hybrid seeds were used.

The fisheries subsector which contributed 21.4 percent to the total agricultural output, was the best performer, with aquaculture turning in a remarmakable growth of 40 percent. Commercial fishery production also grew by 7.76 percent while municipal fishery posted an output expansion of 5.98 percent. The sector also noted a rise in seaweed production by farmers in Mindanao as a result of increased demand for the product.

On the downside, tobacco output fell 22 percent due to flashfloods and frequent rainfall in the Visayas and CARAGA, while mango, coffee,garlic and camote (sweet potato) also suffered production declines due to poor weather and weak market.

Cattle output also went down but overall, the livestock subsector managed to grow, posting a 3.3 percent expansion in the 2004 first quarter due to higher production of carabao, hogs, goat and dairy products.

The poultry subsector also grew 3.4 percent, although this was lower than the 5.06 percent expansion recorded in the first quarter of 2003, due to chicken and duck egg production increases despite a drop in chicken demand on fears of avian flu which ravaged Asia’s poultry industry during the period.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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