THE country’s farm output from January to September contracted by 2.5 percent—the steepest decline in 11 years—as livestock and poultry production woes hound overall agricultural performance, negating gains in the crops sector.

During the nine-month period, the value of agricultural production, at constant 2018 prices, declined to P1.263 billion from P1.295 billion recorded in the same period of last year, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said.

Historical PSA data showed this is the steepest contraction posted by the sector during a January-to-September period since the 3.2-percent decline posted in 2010.

PSA data also showed that production of all subsectors (livestock, poultry and fisheries), except crops, declined from January to September, with the livestock subsector posting a 19.4-percent contraction. Poultry production declined by 1.3 percent while fisheries output fell slightly by 0.5 percent year-on-year, based on PSA data.

The crops subsector, on the other hand, posted a 2.1-percent increase in the value of its production, at constant 2018 prices, according to the PSA.

In the third quarter alone, the value of agricultural production plunged by 2.6 percent year-on-year, the lowest growth rate during a July-to-September period in the past seven years or since the 2.9-percent contraction record in the third quarter of 2014. This is now the fourth consecutive quarter that the performance of the farm sector declined.

“This was due to the drop in crops, livestock, and fisheries production. Meanwhile, poultry recorded increment in production,” the PSA said in its report released on Monday.

The PSA said crop production, which contributed 54.0 percent to the total agriculture and fisheries production, contracted by 0.2 percent while livestock, which accounted for 15.3 percent of total output, declined by 15.2 percent.

“Palay production increased by 6.7 percent while corn production declined by -18.6 percent,” it said.

“Hog, the major contributor for livestock production, decreased by -17.8 percent,” it added.

The PSA said poultry output grew by 13 percent while fisheries production declined slightly by 0.4 percent in the third quarter.

Covid, typhoons

In the view of Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI) President Danilo V. Fausto, the contraction in agriculture output was primarily cased by the challenges from the Covid-19 pandemic such as disrupted supply chains and low purchasing power of Filipinos.

The situation, Fausto pointed out, was worsened by recent typhoons in the third quarter that battered the northern part of Luzon, where abundant crops, including corn, are located. These contracted 18.6 percent during the period.

“The Department of Agriculture’s target of 2 percent full-year growth this year is wishful thinking. I think full-year agriculture output would decline by 1 percent to 2 percent,” he told the BusinessMirror.

“We expect better crop harvest in the fourth quarter coupled by an anticipated pick-up in consumer demand as quarantine restrictions eased,” he added.

Not isolated

Former Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Pinol said the contraction in the country’s farm output is not an isolated case, pointing out that other countries, even the United States, experienced a decline in food production.

“The contraction in agricultural output is not confined to the Philippines. It is a worldwide phenomenon right now as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Pinol, a senatorial in next year’s elections, said in a virtual forum hosted by Kamuning Bakery.

“The disruptions in the supply chain really affected food production, hence, we have to improve our logistics to improve movement of goods,” he added.

Pinol also noted that the low consumer demand for food was also a factor in the drop in overall agricultural output since farmers do not have an assured market. “Even the lakatan banana farmers in Mindanao that are selling in Metro Manila are complaining of low prices. There is no demand, there are no students even,” he said.

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