Emergency trading centers in barangays urged to be put up by govt to to ensure consumers healthful food amid Covid 19

March 30, 2020

As vegetables and other farm produce are left wasted due amid Covid 19 lockdown, the private sector urged government to put up “emergency” trading centers down to the barangay to ensure consumers supply of healthful food.

   The Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food (PCAFI) said the establishment of emergency testing centers is “urgent” as vegetables in Benguet are getting wasted away as many roads in barangays have been blocked due to Covid 19.

   Food producers should also be allowed to take the lead in this supply system so as to widen participation in the distribution of needed goods—ensuring food security. 

   “Emergency trading centers  in barangays and subdivisions nearest to consumers will give people access to the food they need while enhanced community quarantine is in effect. Mobile and rolling stores should be immediately dispatched. The agribusiness sector, unhampered, must take the lead,” said PCAFI President Danilo V. Fausto.

PCAFI led by Danilo V. Fausto, president, together with Department of Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar

The trading centers will supply more nutrients to Filipino consumers than just what is available in canned goods which are what is being distributed by barangays.

   The emergency trading centers will also spare farmers from further impoverished situation amid Covid 19. The same trading centers will also be used as place for sorting, packaging, marketing, and delivery of farm produce whenever found in food-producing areas.

   “Marketing, distribution and delivery efforts should be augmented with the help of government, the LGUs, and even by the military to ensure that food reaches the consumers and market of the farmers’ produced is assured.”

   Amid the consequential crisis from the pandemic,   PCAFI also stressed the nation should not forget existing quarantine measures against the African swine fever (ASF), among others, as this may be neglected.

    “Complications on quarantine protocol: ASF for swine, Avian Flu for poultry and Fall army worm for corn could be left unattended due to the pandemic on COVID-19.

   “Some local government units (LGUs) are defiant to the executive orders and laws that were promulgated to ensure safety and availability of food for their constituents. LGUs should be forced, with the help of the police and military to let go of their excess food produced in their area in order to ensure their availability to other parts of the country.”

   These are other concerns PCAFI urged to be implemented:

  1. The value chain should be left unhampered. Production and agribusiness should be protected and supported and their operations encouraged to normalize and allow free flow of goods and services to feed the people
  2.  Value chain requires the needed manpower in the supermarkets like drivers and helpers, merchandisers. They should not be blocked at the checkpoints. Factories producing the packaging materials should be allowed to operate.
  3. Production inputs like chicks, piglets, fingerlings, seeds, feeds, fertilizer and irrigation should be made available and its delivery to the farmer producers assured this coming production and planting season. Failure to do this, there will be no new planting and production for the next season and will result in shortage of food for the next semester and Christmas season.
  4. The food flow should start from the community or barangay to feed the people in the particular barangay. Any excess from the production in the barangay, it should be exported to the other barangays, municipalities, city or province, and make the farm produce available to areas where there are none.
  5. Ready market should be provided to the current farm harvest and income should be guaranteed for the farmer producers. If markets and income will not be assured, farmers will stop producing for the next cropping season (both for rice, vegetables, meat, poultry and fish).
  6. Farm produce should be able to reach the consumers. In the absence of traders to bridge the gap between the producers and consumers, the government should intervene to provide logistical requirements, delivery system and marketing support for the producers. Melody Mendoza Aguiba

National Taiwan University scholarship for aspiring agri technocrats-entrepreneurs

Taiwan tea farm. Credit: Tripstation

March 28, 2020

Aspiring Filipino agriculture technocrats or entrepreneurs have been granted a scholarship opportunity to hone skills at the National Taiwan University (NTU) in a country venue that leads  Asia  in agriculture modernization,-tourism, and technology.

   The Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study in Agriculture (SEARCA), in collaboration with NTU, has opened application for scholarship on an inaugural course, Master Program in Global Agriculture Technology and Genomic Science (ATGS).

   Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, SEARCA Director., said the NTU-SEARCA Joint Scholarship Program for Global ATGS aims to cultivate agricultural professional talents, encourage academic excellence, and promote the research and development of agriculture within Southeast Asia.”

“The program also provides an opportunity for internship and field visits in line with NTU’s efforts to connect with industries and promote hands-on training. The program’s curriculum is interdisciplinary to develop global bio-agricultural talents that are responsive to the needs of the agriculture sector and with advanced knowledge and practical skills on contemporary agriculture,” said Dr. Maria Cristeta N. Cuaresma, SEARCA Program Head for Graduate Education and Institutional Development.

    Offered by the NTU International College, Dr. Cuaresma said the Global ATGS aims to provide a deeper understanding on smart farming technology, genome science research, and breeding science and technology.

   She added that keystone courses include global agriculture technology foresight, mathematical method for life science, and scientific writing.

   Under Digital Agriculture Technology, students will explore the application of blockchain technology in agriculture, process control for smart farming, plant factory, smart technology applied to livestock production, and agriculture waste treatment engineering.

   In Genome Science, discussions will be on genetics and genomics, crop genomic breeding, advanced plant molecular biology, core biotechnology: DNA, RNA, and protein, special topics in poultry production, and medicine and products processing.

   For Breeding Science and Technology, studies will be on the agriculture of Taiwan, introduction to bioinformatics, crop modeling, and plant phenotyping.

   The program is offered in English. It requires students to finish their thesis and at least 24 credits of coursework which includes 12 credits of compulsory courses and 12 credits of elective courses to earn the degree.

   Dr. Gregorio said prior to collaborating on this joint scholarship, SEARCA and NTU have worked together in other academic activities under the auspices of the Southeast Asian University Consortium for Graduate Education in Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC).

   SEARCA initiated the UC in 1989 and has since served as its secretariat, while NTU is a UC associate member.

   The opportunity is also open to other ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) nationals– nationals of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam.

Agri think tank strengthens partnerships on School +Home Garden needed in crises like Covid 19

Agri think tank strengthens partnerships on School +Home Garden needed in crises like Covid 19

March 26, 2020

An agricultural think-tank has strengthened its partnerships on its “School Plus Home Garden Project” (S+HGP) as farming is evidently  a pressing need in light of crises like Covid 19 that poses critical food security concerns especially in urban areas.

   While old school garden programs used to focus on just “educating” children on agriculture, the S+HGP of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in AGriculture (SEARCA) also stresses nutrition and economic and overall welfare of learners.

   Thus, its application includes homes even in urban areas that are faced with food security problems particularly in crises as the lockdowns. 

   Incidentally, lockdowns—when people could hardly go out of their homes just to buy food–  are implemented globally may lengthen indefinitely for a period of time.

   SEARCA is now replicating its S+HGP through partnerships, primarily with the Department of Education (DepEd).

   And this is open to other institutions even in urban areas that find it critically important to keep their own food gardens for food, sustainability—and many other purposes.

School+Home Garden model together with Department of Agriculture, DepEd, and LGUs

   In its pilot work on S+HGP in six schools in Laguna, SEARCA found out even parents of schoolchildren learned the multiple importance of home gardens.”

   “More than just establishing home gardens, the parents developed a greater sense of responsibility to ensure good nutrition for their children, while also saving on food expenses. It highlighted the multi-functionality of school gardens,” according to Blesilda M. Calub, Leila S. Africa, and Bessie M. Burgos—SEARCA resource persons.

   Such “multi-functionality” of great significance includes home gardens’ use to promote environmental sustainability, organic agriculture, edible landscaping, learning about climate change, and solid waste management (use of agricultural wastes as organic fertilizer).

   The S+HGP easily expanded. From the 6 pilot schools in Laguna, S+HGP is also now in 2 adopted schools, 23 sister schools, and 3 brother schools, according to the SEARCA officials, along with team members Henry M. Custodio, Shun Nan Chiang, Ann Gale C. Valles, Elson IanNyl E. gAling, and Maria Katrina R. Punto

   The S+HGP also stresses the important role in the local economy of local government units (LGU) that can provide funds for a more unified, LGU wide home gardening.

   “Plus in S+HGP promotes year-round production of nutritious food from both the school and home gardens… and (involving) LGUs to allocate funds, providing capacity building initiatives and services to maintain the school gardens or helping parents establish home gardens,” said SEARCA.

   SEARCA Director Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio said an important function of home and school gardens is in opening minds of the youth in making them appreciate farming or agri-preneurship as a potential career, business, or profession.

  Gregorio has pushed for SEARCA’s partnership with DepEd on including an agriculture subject or course into DepEd’s K-12 curriculum, particularly in senior high school, where youngsters are trained on technical-vocational skills.

   Under the pilot study, the SEARCA program aimed to increase diversity and availability of food to meet the nutritional needs of children, increase knowledge and improve skills of students, teachers, and parents on food production and nutrition, reduce food expenses, create savings, and provide an alternative source of income for families to alleviate poverty.

Multi functions of Home+School Garden Program

Pilot program results

   Under the pilot program, teachers learned to prepare cropping calendars, the sequence of plant specific crops based on good timing so harvest can be year-round. The top 10 most produced crops were mustard, pechay, okra, radish, lettuce, kulitis (amarathn), papaya, upo, patola, and talinum.

   These are other positive results of the program, according to SEARCA report:

  • The improved supply quality of fresh vegetables in the school-year studied had an estimated aggregate yield of 1,396 kilos valued at P42,559. Harvest per school ranged from 87-465 kilos depending on garden area with 19 to 77 percent used for school feeding, 0.5-36 percent shared with pupils and parent helpers, and 1-45 percent sold to other parents and teachers or cooked in class.
  • There were significant increases in height, weight, and Body Mass Index (of participating students), translating to 33 percent rehabilitation rate from wasted to normal nutritional status among the pilot elementary schools and 44 percent rehabilitation rate in the secondary school.
  •  There was an increase from 49 to 55 percent in the proportion for studetns who ate vegetables.
  •  The program became a venue for learning environmental sustainability. Topics included producing organic fertilizer from segregated biodegradable wastes, and mulching to protect soil from erosion, conserve soil moisture, control weeds, and increase soil organic matter for soil carbon build up. The mini-greenhouse provided by the project was designed with a rainwater collection system to showcase a simple climate-smart strategy to adapt to climate change.
Grade school pupils are able to eat nutritious vegetables, learn farming, and find work fulfillment from the School + Home Garden Program

Garden tools

   The S+HGP provided its participants garden inputs and tools,  a mini greenhouse with rainwater collection system for schools, garden inputs, and tools. From these, the schools produced vegetable seedlings year-round.

   “This used to be a major constraint because their practice of direct seeding exposed the seeds to too much rain, sunlight, or to insect pests. Capacity building for teachers included training on garden planning, edible landscaping, organic vegetable production and pest management, and vermicomposting,” SEARCA reported.

    In Alaminos, the pilot school was provided by the LGU with a vermicomposting shed.

   The S+HGP was funded by SEARCA and the Asian Development Bank-Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction through the SEAMEO College.

   Meanwhile, SEARCA’s K-12 curriculum program already prepares youngsters for a more in-depth professional agri-preneurship career.

   “The programs include faculty development — offering graduate scholarships in agriculture and allied degrees, short courses on agribusiness and agri-entrepreneurial mindset and education, and continuing education and professional licensure exams review services,” Gregorio said.

“The program shall embed upgraded agri-business context and examples in the K to 12 curriculum”.

   DepEd Secretary Leonor M. Briones said the DepEd will explore urban-based gardening for schools in urban areas like gardening on rooftops and pots.

“Make agriculture sexy like grafting. That is very interesting, kasi may (application) ng science iyan (Science has an application on that). Hindi ka lang nagtatanim at gumagawa ng (You are not just planting and making) organic fertilizers,” she added.

   Briones reported that there are existing schools with little farms and school sites bigger in size and even have tilapia farms.

   Gregorio said the Southeast Asian population is young — providing their respective countries many benefits because “they can become good leaders and the catalyst for economic, social, and cultural development” Melody Mendoza Aguiba

Private sector fears threat of massive buyout of farm land due to REIT revisions

March 16, 2020

The private sector has expressed fear over imminent threat of massive buyout of farm land arising from the revisions in the Real Estate Investment Trust Act (REIT) that could leave more farmers jobless.

   Despite envisioned intensified economic development to be brought by the revised REIT Act of 2009, the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI) has expressed fear over imminent destruction of agricultural lands.  These can be the cheapest land up for sale for developers.

   “The REIT is a mode of floating in the stock market shares of properties. The (revised) law is now reducing public ownership of a REIT to 33 percent (enabling increased control of private companies).  Therefore all developers – Ayala, Megaworld, Vistaland, Robinson’s Land—everybody is now up to develop more lands,” said PCAFI President Danilo V. Fausto.

   “You will see massive acquisition of land— (possibly even including big farm lands) in Central Luzon.  Where will they get the land? From farmers losing in rice.”

Private agriculture sector leaders led by PCAFI President Danilo V. Fausto (second from left) push for agro-industrial development with Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez (leftmost) as audience.

   Incidentally, the Rice Tariffication Act (RTA) implemented last year appears to be supporting REIT as it has rendered many rice Filipino farmers bankrupt.

   “What is happening is there will be malls inside a vast track of land. In the next century, there will no more be land for food,” he said.

   The revised REIT IRR took effect last February 7. The law, as of 2011, was imposing upon REITs to offer shares to public a minimum of 40 percent of the outstanding capital stock for the first year.  This minimum public ownership (MPO) should be raised to 67 percent within three years from listing.

   However, this high MPO discouraged land developers as they would barely have control over the venture with a measly 33 percent.

   But the revision now encourages massive real estate development. However, this makes a despicable picture for farms.

   Therefore, PCAFI is pressing government to offer a compromise by raising investments in farm development.

   Fausto said government should give agriculture a similar support since it is the backbone of the economy and is a source of raw materials for industrial development.

   Particularly, government should pour money into guarantee for farm production in order to encourage banks and investors to lend to agriculture.  

   “The government should also develop farm lands (along with real estate lands). You look at the housing sector.  It receives P180 billion in guarantee.  But how much is the guarantee for agriculture? Only P5 billion. So, I’m asking them (policymakers), ‘Can you eat concrete walls?’”

   While government is investing huge amount for Build Build Build including farm-to-market roads, this will just lead to massive conversion of farm lands into residential-and commercial lands without the support for farm production.

   “Farm-to-market roads accelerate delivery of produce to market.  But if you do not have goods to deliver, you will just accelerate sale of farm lands to real estate developers,” said Fausto.

   “The REIT  is a massive accumulation of capital to develop lands. We can’t stop that anymore.  But why don’t we have a balance? Let’s develop lands, but also develop agriculture production so you can feed people in call centers,” he said.

   PCAFI is also pushing for the immediate passage of the Land Use Act which will prevent massive conversion of agricultural lands into residential-commercial areas.  

   Conversion is feared even of irrigated areas where government already put in huge investments.

   Unfortunately,even irrigated areas are subject to threat of  conversion into residential-commercial areas just by the passage of an ordinance by local government officials.

   Fausto said the Land Use Act will solidify the presence of investors in agriculture.

   “Our investors will have stability with Land Use Act. They’re putting in millions and billions in investments.  But at the end of the day, their land may be converted because we don’t have a proper land use law.  Lands that are perfectly productive should remain producing food for our country,” said Fausto.

   Without the Land Use Act, farm companies that invest huge amount for poultry or livestock farms and processing facilities may suffer losses from land conversion ordinances recklessly issued by influential government officials.  Melody Mendoza Aguiba

Corn hybrids resistant to corn borer also fights newly emerged fall armyworm

March 8, 2020

For any questions or interview requests, please contact 09297158669, 09171026734 (Growth Publishing for Bayer)

North Luzon farmers have found a hybrid corn variety originally developed to fight the highly devastating Asiatic corn borer to be similarly resistant to the just emerging fall armyworm that is now infesting Philippines’ corn farms.

   A relatively new pest in the Philippines that has already invaded Southeast Asia from its

origin in America, fall armyworm has become a major concern for the industry as the

extent of actual damage to corn crops is feared from trivial to significant.

Corn hybrids Dekalb VT Double Pro (RIGHT) withstand fall armyworm leaf damage versus non-resistant hybrids

   The VT Double PRO Dekalb hybrids, which has a biotechnology trait that controls lepidopteran pest Bacillus thuringiensis (TB), is reportedly also bringing resistance to the

newly emerged fall armyworm, farmers claimed.

   The VT Double Pro of Bayer has a dual mode of action for protection against fall armyworm, corn borer, corn earworm, and other above-ground pests notorious for wreaking havoc on corn crops leading to huge yield losses.

   “We observed that some corn hybrids had around 13 to 17 percent damage due to fall

armyworm, but the Dekalb VT Double Pro hybrids planted at the same time had less than 3 percent damage,” according to Rolex Martinez, a farmer in Barangay Swan, Pudtol, Apayao.

   He planted the VT Double Pro Dekalb hybrids in 7 hectares during the previous season.

   These Dekalb hybrid corn seeds are currently the only seed product certified by the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA) as plant-incorporated protectant for control of fall armyworm

   With other hybrids not having the technology, corn farmers were not as lucky as they tried

to apply different types of insecticides to no avail.

   The fall armyworm has become a major concern for corn farmers since it emerged just in June 2019.

   “Some say that the damage of fall armyworm is not yet very big. Let’s not wait for the damage to turn huge until help to farmers is extended. We are waiting for government to immediately download to farmers whatever solution has been found effective,” said PMFI President Roger Navarro.

   Many farmers are clueless on how to control fall armyworm, considering it is just a new pest.  An old pest, though, known only as “armyworm” before was said to be already existing in the Philippines in the last decades.

   “We are confused on what to do. We don’t know how to control this pest.  We have tried all kinds of pesticides—the strongest ones. We found these useless. We hope the government will recommend to us whatever is best to control this pest,” said Martinez.

   In Barangay Duminit, Cauayan City, Isabela, Art Cacal, a farmer and barangay chairman

who grows white glutinous corn, experienced huge damage from fall armyworm from his latest harvest.

   “Fall armyworm destroyed 100 percent of our harvest because the pest ate up all the leaves,”

said Cacal.

Fall armyworm feed on and damage corn leaves that have no Dekalb VT Double Pro resistant-traits

   Similar to the situation of Martinez, corn farmers in Cauayan City also tried using different

types of insecticides just to combat the pest.  But none of them was able to prevent the

damage to their crops. Cacal mentioned that there were several farmers who had up to 50

percent yield loss at harvest time due to the corn pest.

   On the other hand, Cacal added that farmers who planted the Dekalb corn hybrids last

season did not encounter the same damaging fate.

   The Department of Agriculture gave away fertilizers to farmers in Cauayan City in order to

counter destruction of fall armyworm.

   “We received a total of 149 bags in fertilizer for our entire barangay because DA gave 3 bags of fertilizer per hectare, but it didn’t have much good result for fall armyworm,” said Cacal.

   White glutinous corn is preferred to be planted by some farmers in Cauayan City since it

is a short two-month crop compared to yellow corn’s four-month planting duration.

   Cropping may reach up to five times a year leading to quicker cash turnover. Traders or

buyers of white corn used as food (grilled corn) intentionally travel to Cauayan City just to haul white corn when Nueva Ecija supply gets depleted.

   However, the growing concern from fall armyworm infestation is making farmers growing white corn to shift to planting yellow corn. 

   They are likely to use the Dekalb VT Double Pro corn hybrid varieties due to their resistance to this emerging key corn pest.

   “Our team in the field has observed numerous cases of fall armyworm damage in major

corn growing areas all over the country.  And we feel sorry for our farmers who had the

yields and income reduced significantly due to this corn pest,” said Erwin Vibal, head of

marketing for Bayer CropScience.

   “Fortunately, we are able to address this key concern with our lineup of Dekalb corn hybrids that have proven built-in resistance against fall armyworm.”

   Based on the current list of Fertilizer and Pestcide Authority (FPA) for registered products

to control fall armyworm, Bayer’s VT Double PRO is the only Plant-Incorporated

Protectant in the approved registry while the rest are insecticide application.

   “We are looking forward to the coming season because our Dekalb seeds provide much

more convenience and assurance to our corn farmers from fall armyworm.  We also

ensure that the agronomic characteristics of our hybrids are adaptable to different growing

conditions leading to high yields and income,” added Vibal. 

   Aside from their corn hybrid varieties, Vibal mentioned that Bayer is also launching Yeoval

next month, which is a crop protection product that can help address the concern for farmers planting white glutinous corn or sweet corn. Melody Mendoza Aguiba and Bryan P. Rivera