DA to intensify soil rejuvenation program to sustain increased crop productivity

The Department of Agriculture (DA) will intensify its soil rejuvenation program nationwide to sustain the increased productivity of rice, corn, vegetables, coconut, fruits, and other major crops.

“One of our continuing major challenges is how to increase productivity and reduce the cost of production. And as soil is the foundation of agriculture, we must protect, preserve, and nurture it to sustainably produce adequate, affordable, and nutritious food for all Filipino families,” said Agriculture Secretary William Dar.

“We, therefore, instructed all our commodity banner program directors to make soil rejuvenation as the basic foundation of their productivity strategies,” said Secretary Dar, underscoring that “from healthy soils, come bountiful crops.”

He issued the instruction during the agency’s management committee meeting on January 13, 2021, attended physically and virtually by top officials at the central and regional field offices, bureaus, and attached agencies and corporations.

“Rejuvenating and enriching our soils with organic nutrients and compost, including animal manure, must be part of all our crop commodity banner programs, including the promotion of composting technologies,” the DA chief said.

“Hence, farmers should maintain a compost pit, and that their cooperatives or associations (FCAs) be provided with shedders and composting facilities under the DA’s farm mechanization program,” said Secretary Dar, a staunch and long-time advocate of soil rejuvenation technologies.

“Recycling farm wastes and transforming them into compost and organic fertilizer is not only sustainable but also provides farmers additional income,” he said.

The DA chief noted that “while organic agriculture is important in reviving the health of the soil, there is still a need for a balanced fertilization strategy to achieve the maximum potential of our farms and attain food security, especially now that we are still striving under the pandemic,” Secretary Dar said.

Balanced fertilization entails the judicious use of inorganic and organic fertilizers.

“Related to this, we urge farmers and organic agriculture practitioners to elevate their game in promoting not only a healthy ecosystem and producing safe and nutritious food, but also in making organic products affordable for everyone,” he added.

“Hence, we welcome the recent signing by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte of Republic Act (RA) 11511 that amends the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010 or RA 10068,” the DA chief said.

“We also thank the law’s principal author and sponsor, Senator Cynthia Villar, who said that RA 11511 democratizes the certification of organic products, as it puts in place a more affordable and accessible ‘Participatory Guarantee System’ or PGS,” the DA chief added.

Senator Villar said PGS is a cheaper alternative to third-party certification that costs P100,000 to P120,000 per crop. Under PGS, certification only costs P600 to P2,000.

“Thus, the PGS plays a vital role in rural development and farmer empowerment through their active engagement in the whole process of verification, decision-making, and marketing,” said Secretary Dar.

Senator Villar, chairperson of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, said the new law will benefit over 165,000 organic agriculture practitioners, mostly small farmers.

RA 11511 also provides for the creation of the National Organic Agriculture Program-National Program Coordinating Office (NOAP-NPCO), under the DA. It will serve as a planning, secretariat, and coordinating office of the National Organic Agriculture Board (NOAB).

The law also restructures and strengthens the DA’s Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Standards (BAFS) to provide technical assistance to the NOAB and the NOAP-NPCO. ### (Rita dela Cruz, DA StratComms)

Phl declared bird flu-free

The Philippines is now free of the Avian Influenza (AI) A(H5N6) virus.

The Department of Agriculture (DA), through the Bureau of Animal Industry (DA-BAI), announced that the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) declared that as of January 8, 2021, the country is now free of the last remaining A(H5N6) strain of the Avian Influenza (AI).

The country was able to resolve the outbreaks of AI A(H5N6) in a commercial layer poultry farm in Pampanga, and backyard poultry farms in a village in Rizal, in less than a year after the poultry virus reemerged in the country.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar said this is a welcome development considering that poultry meat is a highly popular animal protein source among Filipinos, like pork and beef.

“I congratulate the DA-BAI and the local governments of Pampanga and Rizal, whose swift action resulted in limiting the further spread of the AI A(H5N6) strain to other areas,” said secretary Dar.

In its report to the OIE, the DA-BAI said the affected farms showed no further evidence of the presence of the AI virus during the monitoring and surveillance.

“We had not detected any case of AI A(H5N6) among the poultry and other bird population in the last 90 days after the completion of cleaning and disinfection in the affected farms, surveillance and monitoring, and completion of the 35-day restocking period with sentinel animals in Pampanga and Rizal,” said DA-BAI Ronnie Domingo.

The recurrence of A(H5N6) was confirmed by the DA-BAI Animal Disease Diagnosis and Reference Laboratory on July 10, 2020, after the owner of the commercial layer farm notified the Pampanga provincial veterinary office about the sudden drop in egg production, cyanosis (dark bluish or purplish coloration of the skin and mucous membranes in chickens), and mortalities.

Another case was detected in Rizal, as reported by a farmer on August 26, 2020, to the municipal veterinary office of Taytay. The backyard farm had approximately 500 head of free-range chicken and 300 head of Muscovy ducks. The clinical signs — such as wry neck or torticollis, cyanosis of extremities — and death were observed since August 10, 2020.

As a result of the swift action of the farm owners, sanitary control and containment operations to prevent the further spread of the virus were carried out immediately.

“We appreciate the rapid response and collaboration of the local government units of Pampanga and Rizal and DA Regional Field Offices III and IV-A,” DA-BAI said.

The agency also thanked the affected farmers — for their prompt reporting that led to the early containment of the disease — the poultry stakeholders, and partners from the Department of Health for extending support to the prevention and control of AI.

To recall, the Philippines also resolved the outbreak cases in 2017 and in 2018.

The DA-BAI, however, reminds poultry farmers and industry stakeholders to remain vigilant and report any unusual mortalities to their respective farm veterinarians or nearest government veterinary or agriculture office.

The agency also urges the public to always verify sources of information with the DA-BAI for proper guidance, through 09951329339 or 09208543119. ### (DA StratComms)

Empowering women in the coffee industry

The stakeholders of the GREAT Women Project meet to discuss plans for the upcoming Women Micro-enterprise Assembly to be held in February this year.

The Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Philippines Project (WEE Project) or the Gender-Responsive Economic Actions for the Transformation of Women 2 (GREAT Women Project 2) is a foreign-assisted project funded by the Government of Canada through the Philippine Commission on Women.

The project is in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Science and Technology, and the private sector.

In the Cordillera, it targets women’s group who are engaged in coffee farming, and home-style and wearables handicraft. It aims to uplift the women’s socioeconomic status not only in terms of business but also in terms of transformational change to become successful entrepreneurs.

Towards the project direction in contributing to the development of coffee and home style and wearables sector, the Regional Technical Working Group and farmers representatives now plan for the WME general assembly.

The activity aims to gather WMEs and stakeholders from the said industry to discuss the status, accomplishments, and emerging issues, gaps, and challenges that have affected WMEs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; to agree and commit to measures and mechanisms to ensure sustainability, and to discuss ways for the Regional Coffee Council to work together with coffee farmers of various associations/cooperatives under the GWP2 in improving the coffee industry.

In an interview with Evelyn Payacda, a coffee consolidator and processor of Bila Rural Development Club in Bila, Bauko, Mt. Province, she said that engaging in the coffee business helps women survive during this pandemic. She admitted though that the roasted coffee sales went down due to the quarantine restrictions. Most of their customers, like coffee shops, were closed. Now, they only cater to local shops and do online marketing to sell their products.

The project is now in its second year of implementation catering to 73 enrolled WMEs in the Cordillera. Under the Department of Agriculture-CAR, there are 18 WMEs being assisted by the project through capacitation on Coffee Quality Training, Orientation on Good Agricultural Practices on Coffee, and Institutional Building Trainings.

“We need the younger generations to continue the coffee industry; as the coffee trees, we need to be rejuvenated, we need to be pruned as we are getting old. Please support the coffee industry, buy local coffee,” shared Ms. Shirley Palao-ay, a coffee farmer from Tuba, Benguet, in her sentiments toward the coffee industry. # # # (DA-RFO CAR, RAFIS)