Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Instilling Agriculture Science back in RP Farms
DAVAO CITY — High commodity prices and low supply of food tend to rile consumers and the first thing they’d most likely question is the agriculture sector.In time like these, agriculture tends to be “on the defensive,” according to Dr. Calixto Protacio, chairman of the Initiatives for Farm Advocacy and Resource Management (iFarm), a nongovernment organization.
He said, however, that the sector “must become proactive in order to make a real impact.”
iFarm is in the thick of instilling back the awareness within the sector and the society at large “that what we have been doing all along in agriculture for the past several decades is science-based, and yet many have forgotten this fact and have taken agriculture for granted,” said Protacio. “It’s almost similar to thinking that agriculture is simply tilling the land and producing crops for the immediate needs of the household.”
He noted in his Powerpoint presentation at the seminar-workshop here on Facing the Challenges and Opportunities of Sustainable Agriculture in 2010, “while everyone in the agriculture industry knows that agriculture is science-based, not everyone in society understands this fact.”
Croplife Philippines, a private organization promoting safe and responsible use of manufactured farm inputs, sponsored the seminar held at the Grand Regal Hotel here, facilitated by iFarm.Science has enabled societies to produce both adequate and surplus amounts in agriculture.
“We forgot that we’ve been producing adequately” over and above the surplus, “because of our scientific knowledge and the application of appropriate technology,” he told the BusinessMirror at the side sidelines of the workshop.Farmers produce not only for themselves “but for a lot of other people as well,” he said.
Many people are ignorant “of food production and can be led to believe a lot of myths,” Protacio added.
Scientists, agriculture experts and technicians know that the full potential of agriculture in the Philippines hasn’t been harnessed yet, hampered by the high cost of farm technology used in developed countries, according to Protacio.
“We are developing our own, and have been slowly accessing most technologies in agriculture,” he said and cited the work now being done in the use of microorganisms, or plant growth-promoting bacteria, that could raise farm yields per hectare at a lower cost.
The results of this work could have a positive impact on food production and be largely gauged in how society’s food needs are met as well as in promoting human health and maintaining soil sustainability.
Production of cash crops in large-scale plantations is an example of science at work in agriculture, according to experts.Pineapple and banana—the country’s principal fruit exports—could be produced several folds above the average production yield in small farms across the country.
These farms produce 30 to 40 metric tons (MT) of pineapple on average per hectare per year, compared to 93MT in large plantations.
The country’s mango, coconut and sugar exports, including other crops, rose 4.1 percent to more than P150 billion last year.In 2006, crude and refined coconut oil production reached $300 million.
Two years later, it surged to $1.1 billion. Tobacco production last year totaled $100 million or double than in 2006.These increases “can be attributed to advances in crop science. Studies on planting density, nutrition, plant breeding and physiology, and soil science made the dramatic yield increases possible,” Protacio said in his presentation.
“Primarily, the concern of the government is food security, especially after the recent crisis in rice, which fortunately, was confined only to [southern and central region] part of Mindanao,” said Agriculture Assistant Secretary Salvador S. M. Salacup, who gave a speech at workshop.
A copy of his speech, Agribusiness and Marketing Support for High Value Crops, shows that in 2007, agriculture and fisheries accounted for 18.3 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and employed 35.1 percent of the those employed at that time.
To avoid a repeat of the 2008 rice crisis, Salacup said that government aims for self-sufficiency in rice by 2013 and in corn by 2010.The government also wants to sustain the growth of high-value crops at the rate of at least 7 percent per year, as well as in livestock and poultry through a massive program of breeder stock infusion, stocks upgrade, and prevention, control and eradication of animal diseases.
The DA said it wants to increase fish production by at least 7 percent this year “to ensure resource sustainability.”
To achieve these targets, Salacup said the DA would “identify and pursue agribusiness development of two million hectares of agriculture and fisheries areas and to generate three million jobs in six years.Farm inputs and good agricultural practices would largely help government reach its targets, according to Dr. Dario Sabularse, deputy director of the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA).
But the rising cost of inorganic pesticides and fertilizers and issues about their impact on the environment and human health have lead to a significant shift toward organic products—many are manufactured locally and still undergoing tests in small farms.
Farm inputs are used mainly to improved growth and productive capacities of the crops and control agricultural pests.
With the concern for environment and human health, environmental advocates have searched and pushed for practices that could sustain the use of the soil and its resources.Sabularse said there was a significant drop in the use of inorganic chemical inputs and a gradual rise in organic fertilizers and pesticides in the Philippines.
Sabularse said his agency “would see to it that not only production be maintained, but to let many people using them to understand how these chemicals work, especially on the 16 essential elements.”
Inculcating farmers with science-based agriculture “would help our agriculture serve the country’s food needs,” he said.Florence Vasquez, president of CropLife, said the organization would like to promote in the proper application of inorganic chemicals in farms, and promote the proper mix with or shift to organic farm inputs “through the proper education of applicators and farmers in the use of these inputs as found in their labels.”
She said that despite issues against chemical inputs “companies are doing their part in promoting sustainable agriculture and to educate more farmers” on how to use these inputs.
“We all want to produce new results, and these companies are also producing green pesticides,” she said, noting that the CropLife, was formed in the early 1960’s by big chemical companies to help promote the proper use of fertilizers and pesticides.
Vasquez clarified that sustainable agriculture “does not necessarily mean discontinuing the use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides. It’s the proper mix of both inorganic and organic inputs.”
Roger Gualberto, executive director of the Vegetable Industry Council of Southern Mindanao (Vicsmin), told the BusinessMirror after the workshop that he was grateful of the event.
“We are also using inorganic inputs but we want these chemical companies to conduct their own CSR and teach our farmers how to really use their products,” he said, citing a plant-growth regulating chemical that was recently introduced to the Philippines “without saying in the label when to stop its use.”
He said, “We warned the FPA that if it cannot compel that company to explain why its use was only limited to the Philippines, India and Pakistan, [as] this would come out openly in the news media,” he said.Gualberto said the decision of the vegetable farmers to shift to organic fertilizers and pesticides “was due to the economics of our pocket.”
Protacio said production “must be efficient and this objective has been achieved largely through advances in agricultural engineering. Machines were developed that made it easier to cultivate and protect large tracts of cropland.”
He said that science-based agriculture “has been tested over time in several countries” and that studies are deep “down to the genomic level and far-reaching as whole landscapes or ecosystems are now being studied.”
But to make this popular and easy for people in general to embrace, Protacio said that “the general public needs accurate, science-based facts from legitimate sources in order to better understand agriculture’s importance to their quality of life.”
“Agriculture needs to have a strong, clear, truthful voice speaking on its behalf,” he added.
By Business Mirror
Organic Agriculture Products for Increased Yields and Lower Input Costs
Click here to review Nutrplant AG Organic Fertilizer
Click here to review Nutriplant SD Organic Seed Germination Fertilizer
Click here to review Apsa80 to increase the efficacy of all your applied products