Monday, January 18, 2016

DA’s high-value crops program to expand production of Bicol’s indigenous crops
By Danny O. Calleja

PILI, Camarines Sur, Jan. 17 (PNA) -- The Department of Agriculture’s program on high-value indigenous crops in Bicol has its best foot forward this year as it sets massive expansions to cover more areas of plantations.

Set for expansions are pili, cacao and coffee plantations while new areas for pineapple, camote (sweet potato), gabi (taro); production enhancement of native lowland vegetables and spices; and flower induction of mangoes are also in the pipeline this year, DA Regional Executive Director Abelardo Bragas said here over the weekend.

These Bicol’s signature crops have been placed under the agency’s High-Value Crops Development Program (HVCDP), an intervention falling under the application of Republic Act No. 7900 or the High-Value Crops Development Act of 1995 that allots funds for providing production assistance, technology transfer, marketing and processing that now steer farmers towards generating more income.

In the HVCDP, whose implementation has been intensified in the region since about four years ago, assistance to producers concerning crop insurance, credit, post-harvest facilities, good seeds and planting materials and fiscal incentives are also provided.

The region has the biggest agricultural area compared to all its 16 counterparts in the country and yet, according to the latest official survey, its poverty situation stands awfully disturbing at the rate of 34.1 percent, which means there are around 34 poor Bicolano families in every 100.

This leaves Bicol — the contributor of half of the national economic growth in 2013 — on the seventh place among the country’s poorest regions.

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Caraga, Zamboanga Peninsula (Region IX), Mimaropa (Region IV-B), Northern Mindanao (Region X) and Eastern Visayas (Region VIII) are the first six.

Bicol needs to maximize the productivity of its vast agricultural area for it to be able to bid the poorest region list goodbye, according to Bragas.

The region has prime agricultural commodities whose production, when given the best attention through proper planning and productivity program implementation, he said, will propel the area to agricultural development and become the food basket of the Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon (Calabarzon) industrial zone and the National Capital Region (NCR).

Among these farm commodities are those that HVCDP has set for production expansion this year.

On pili, the HVCDP has embarked on the enhancement of its nuts, the region’s source of prime and indigenous delicacy that has been winning a competitive niche in the world market.

Apart from the attractiveness of pili nut’s products to the world market, pili is another tree of life in Bicol, next to coconut, with all its parts being useful.

At present, Sorsogon is the largest pili producer in the region, followed by Albay and Camarines Sur, and Bragas said its three other provinces — Catanduanes, Masbate and Camarines Norte -- are set to get involved in this enhancement program.

Cacao, meanwhile, which grows well in the region owing to its tropical climate, Bragas said, has a big potential due to global consumption and demand for chocolates.

In 2020, a global scarcity of cacao beans is being anticipated and the DA is preparing Bicolano farmers to this scenario that would benefit them should they participate in large-scale production being promoted by the agency under the HVCDP in partnership with the Philippine Coconut Authority that provides technologies in cacao intercropping with coconut and pili.

So far, enthusiasm on cacao growing has been spreading like wildfire in Bicol since the program started about three years ago a campaign towards grooming cacao beans as another sunshine industry of the region by way of promoting this high-value crop’s significance both in terms of economic and health gains.

Rosita Imperial, the regional HVCDP focal person, said she is optimistic that with the help of local government units (LGUs) in the region, the program can attain its targets for 2016 which include an addition of 750 hectares of new areas for pili; 850 hectares for cacao and 75 hectares for coffee, in the province of Camarines Sur alone.

The goal for the province, Imperial said, also covers the development of new 50 hectares for pineapple; 24 hectares for camote; 40 hectares for gabi; as well as additional six hectares for indigenous vegetables; 30 hectares for spices; and flower induction of 15,000 mango trees.

“We are, at the same time, working on the enhancement of production in lowland areas covering some 475 hectares across the province that owns the largest agricultural area in the region,” she said.

Imperial said these targets for Camarines Sur were laid down during a recent consultation meeting with all the agricultural officers and HVCDP coordinators in the 35 LGUs of the province.

Similar undertakings will soon be initiated in a series by the DA for the HVCDP in all the other five provinces of Bicol as a process of setting up their respective high-value crops expansion targets for this year, she said.

The program’s interventions are now proposal-based as it has shifted from giving directives to LGUs to just being an agent offering the services to interested clients that include the individual farmers, farmer’s organizations, academe, and private industries, thus, the consultations, according to Imperial.

To achieve these expansion targets and realize the production goals, the program will provide interventions such as seed production for buffer stocking, planting materials; production facilities such as plant nurseries, rain shelters, scion groves; small-scale irrigation; production equipment and machineries like sprayers and tractors; market-related activities; and extension support.

The program, Imperial said, also aims to lessen importation of various vegetables through increase in production of mung bean, peanut and garlic and provide additional income to farmers through the provision of processing equipment and machineries and community-based processing or post-harvest facilities. (PNA) SCS/FGS/DOC/CBD/SSC