TO avert wide scale food shortage, senatorial candidate and Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos said massive agricultural modernization and industrialization must be implemented immediately in Mindanao, which is dubbed the country’s food basket.
“It is the height of irony that Mindanao, which is considered as the country’s food basket, is experiencing food shortage. Panahon na para baguhin ang nakasanayang sistema na dahilan kung bakit laging napapag-iwanan ang Mindanao,” she stressed.
Marcos, the only incumbent local official running for senator in the May 13 midterm polls, noted that the southern region of Mindanao produces 40 percent of the country’s food requirements yet holds the record of having some of the poorest provinces.
“Embarking on a massive modernization program for agriculture in the Southern Philippines will not only address the decline in food production but will help alleviate poverty in the region as well,” she said.
“With the growing population that needs to be fed, the government should attend to modernizing agriculture posthaste,” Marcos added, fearing that since Filipino farmers are getting very old, “we may end up one day with no one tilling our lands.”
Marcos said critical to improving the food security situation in the country is making the production cost competitive.
“It only costs P6 to produce a kilo of rice in Vietnam, yet it takes P12.50 to achieve the same here in the Philippines. The production cost is more than double,” she noted.
“We need to improve our mechanization program and give our farmers fertilizers, agricultural inputs and hybrid seeds. We have to expand our irrigated areas and develop our distribution system so farmers are able to earn enough while we keep food prices at affordable levels,” Marcos said.
Marcos urged the government through the Department of Agriculture to bankroll the construction of the much-needed agricultural infrastructures, such as the building of silos for better storage of agricultural produce and more farm-to-market roads.
The DA must also promote improved varieties and alternative crops to achieve higher income for farmers, she said.
Marcos also suggested that it is high time for the DA to aggressively promote “smart farming”, such as tropical greenhouse farming and aquaponics through government grants.
“The government must also provide assistance programs in terms of distributing modern agricultural equipment and implements, seeds, and fertilizer, among others, including extending credit facilities to the Filipino farmers,” Marcos stressed.
She noted that agriculture, and specifically rice production, has remained at backward levels in Mindanao.
“Hindi na nag-improve from more than 30 years ago ang agricultural output sa Mindanao. And if we do nothing drastic and innovative, they will remain stuck at the 1970s level while the rest of the country moves forward with modern agricultural technology,” she said.
The governor recalled that in the 1970s, “our production rate was four metric tons per hectare. Now, we are still at four metric tons per hectare. How can we expect to be more competitive when our neighbors, such as Vietnam, are already averaging seven metric tons per hectare?” she added.
During the term of her father, then President Ferdinand Marcos, neighboring countries turned to the Philippines for the latest agricultural innovations.
“We were way ahead at that time. Now, we hold the record of being one of the biggest rice importers globally. Worse, we are importing almost everything – not just rice, but also chicken and pork. It is as if we do not have farmers in the Philippines,” Marcos lamented.
Marcos said Mindanao stands to benefit greatly from genuine agricultural modernization alongside the flagship projects under the Build, Build, Build program of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Among the big-ticket infrastructure items in the island are the P5.4-billion Malitubog-Maridagao irrigation project that will cover 10,000 hectares and is expected to be completed this year; the expansion and improvement of the Davao International Airport and Laguindingan Airport; the P21.2-billion growth corridor project that will have the government build and improve a total of 280 kilometers in roads and bridges in the Zamboanga Peninsula and Tawi-Tawi province.
The governor has always said that she has a special spot for Mindanao as she considers it her bailiwick outside of Ilocos region.
“I truly am an adopted daughter of Mindanao. My father laid the foundation for his vision of a prosperous Mindanao – a true land of promise – and we are committed to fulfilling that,” Marcos concluded.