THE agriculture sector is being seen as the one that will help lead Mindanao into its economic recovery following the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
Despite the country's agriculture sector only growing by 1.6 percent in the second quarter of the year, Assistant Secretary Romeo M. Montenegro, Mindanao Development Authority (Minda) deputy executive director, pointed out that compared to the industry and services sector that contracted by 22.9 percent and 15.8 percent, the "agriculture sector continue to stay afloat at a positive level."
"We are emboldened to do more what is logical, what is strategic, and what is most viable in Mindanao -- that is to harness the strength of agriculture," Montenegro said during a virtual press conference hosted by Holcim and Minda.
Montenegro said Mindanao accounts for 40 percent of the overall food production of the country and 30 percent of the national food trade.
"It is but appropriate for agriculture and fisheries receive adequate attention as we embark on economic recovery," he said.
He said Minda already has programs in place that will help boost the agricultural sector of Mindanao.
"This time around, we are not only looking at expanding production areas or increasing the harvest of our farmers, but the strategies would [also] be looking at the integration of our farming areas, provided with the necessary integration," Montenegro said.
Among those programs is Minda Tienda, a major activity by the agency that seeks to link farmers to the market. The program started before the Covid-19 pandemic. The program complements the Mindanao Agribusiness Database, which provides persons who access it information on what is being planted or harvested, livestock being raised, and volume being produced in a certain area.
Montenegro said they are also pushing for the improvement of the agricultural standards being observed by farmers in Mindanao.
"We may have the best products but if we fail the stringent standards of many markets, we will not be able to leverage on our strength. We have to look at improving our standards and making sure that we are able to meet the demands of the market," he said.
Minda is also pushing for the improvement of the logistics and consolidation aspect of the agricultural sector in Mindanao.
Montenegro said most farms in Mindanao are fragmented and are far from each other. This poses a challenge when it comes to consolidating products. Other farms are also not linked to the highways and ports.
"If the production areas are not linked with roads towards the highways or the ports for export, sayang lang ang harvest ng ating mga farmers kasi hindi nadadala fresh ang produkto because of the lack of logistics (What our farmers harvested will only go to waste because the products are not delivered fresh due to the lack of logistics)," he said.
He said the logistical and consolidation problems of agriculture in Mindanao also stems from the lack of needed facilities of the farmers. For example, fisherfolk living along the coastlines of Davao Oriental and Surigao del Sur do not have the facility where they can consolidate their catch. Seaweed producers in Taw-tawi are not able to process or value-add their seaweeds due to not having stable electricity in the area.
"We are not able to seize opportunities because we lack those facilities," Montenegro said.
He said, together with their partners, they will be using a P2.1 billion grant from the European Union to establish facilities for the agriculture sector.
"Consolidation and integration are crucial part of the strategy to make sure that we are able to bring up our economic strength in Mindanao that is still achored on agriculture," Montenegro said.
Signs of recovery
Meanwhile, Montenegro said they have observed that there are already some signs of recovery.
He pointed out that the energy demand in Mindanao are now back to the pre-pandemic levels.
"We have seen power demand back to pre-covid levels from as low as 1300 megawatts (MW) in May, we are now back to 1700 MW to 1800 MW demand every day," Montenegro said.
However, he said energy demand can still be considered lower to what was observed during the pre-pandemic. Due to the closure or reduced operations of malls, hotels, and industrial plants, energy demand now is still slightly lower compared to pre-pandemic days.
They also observed that more cargo are being moved around this time.
Construction of private and public projects are also good signs that the economy has began to recovery.