MANILA, January 21, 2005 (STAR) By Rocel C. Felix - The agriculture sector, which contributes a fifth of the country’s total economic output and employs more than half of its workforce, bucked four devastating typhoons in the fourth quarter to post a 5.06-percent growth in 2004, 1.34 percentage points higher than the 3.72-percent growth in the previous year.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur C. Yap said that notwithstanding an anemic fourth quarter with growth recorded at only 1.35 percent compared to 5.42 percent during the same period in 2003, strong performances posted in the previous quarters, allowed the sector to post full-year growth of 5.06 percent.

The sector grew 7.94 percent in the first quarter, 4.53 percent in the second quarter and 7.25 percent in the third quarter.

"Despite the retreat or negative performance of the crops and the livestock subsectors in the fourth quarter, output increments were sustained in the crops, poultry and fishery sectors during the year," said Yap.

The major growth drivers were the crops subsector which expanded by 4.89 percent from only 2.83 percent during the same period in 2003.

Yap noted improved performances in palay and corn where production grew by 7.38 percent and 17.28 percent, respectively. Production of palay, the country’s major staple reached 14.5 million metric tons (MT) from 13.4 million MT in 2003, allowing the country to post a 94 percent self-sufficiency ratio in rice. Corn production went up to 5.4 million MT from 4.6 million MT in the previous year.

The other crops that recorded significant output expansions were banana, pineapple, tomato and rubber. Overall, the subsector’s contribution to agricultural production was 47.46 percent, equivalent to P383.2 billion at current prices, or a 16-percent increase in value of production in 2003.

The aquaculture subsector became a major growth driver in 2004, with production up by a hefty 17.9 percent to 17.14 million MT from 8.68 percent or 14.54 million MT in 2003. The subsector accounted for 23.44 percent of total agricultural output. Value of production improved 16.03 percent to P139.1 billion at current prices.

Despite the avian flu scare last year, the poultry subsector also posted a positive growth of 4.23 percent with chicken production up by 3.62 percent, chicken egg production up 7.92 percent and duck egg production up 4.7 percent. Duck production however, dipped 1.32 percent. The subsector accounted for 15.57 percent of 2004 agricultural output.

On the downside, the livestock sector which accounted for 13.53 percent of total agricultural output contracted by 0.41 percent. The drop was due to the decline in hog and cattle production.

Yap noted that average farmgate prices of agricultural commodities last year increased by 12.71 percent with top gainers such as the livestock, poultry, crops and fishery subsectors, enjoying higher prices of 27.53 percent, 15.10 percent, 10.43 percent and 6.01 percent, respectively.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) chief said 2005 growth projections are still being assessed in view of the expected slowdown in the first quarter as the farm sector attempts to recover from the destructive typhoons that hit the country‚s farmlands last November and December.

Yap said however, that early mitigation measures to cushion the El Nino phenomenon, implemented as early as September last year, will enable the country to increase palay and corn production in 2005.

Thus, palay production is projected to go up to 15.1 million MT from 14.5 million MT in 2004, while corn production will increase this year to 5.7 million MT from 5.45 million in 2003.

Earlier, the University of Asia and the Pacific (UAP) projected a growth rate of 2.5 to 3.5 percent for the agriculture sector this year, lower than the DA’s projected full-year growth of 4.6 percent.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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