Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Proceso J. Alcala assured local government officials that the agribusiness sector of the country is now ready for the ASEAN economic integration by 2015.

In the Local Government Academy-organized forum ASEAN Economic Integration: The Role of Local Governments held at the Heritage Hotel in Pasay City on October 10, 2014, Alcala said that between now and 2017, DA has come up with a roadmap to prepare the agribusiness sector for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

“We will invest heavily on farm mechanization, irrigation and financing to strengthen our capacity to compete in the ASEAN region,” Alcala said.

Alcala admitted that access to credit by farmers is still limited, “that is why DA is encouraging farmers to avail of the services of the Sikat Saka.”

Sikat Saka is a credit assistance program of the Department and the Land Bank of the Philippines, which provides crop insurance as an automatic value added service, along with assured market and financial mentoring. On irrigation, Alcala added that DA has already developed a blueprint to gradually decrease irrigation fees until it becomes free.

The Agri chief also highlighted that the Philippine Rural Development Program (PRDP) has been approved in time for the ASEAN economic integration.

“This is a comprehensive program that would fully prepare the Philippines to become competitive along with other ASEAN markets. Local governments can maximize their agribusiness potentials with the PRDP as it covers activities from planting to processing to marketing. Also, we can strengthen smallholder farmers through the PRDP in preparation for the ASEAN integration,” Alcala said.

Along with the programs in place and in the pipeline, Alcala stressed that the agribusiness sector should focus on certain products as strategy to initially develop good branding in the regional market.

“Let’s identify crops that we have the advantage of. We should only focus for now on what we are good at,” Alcala said.

He added that the agribusiness enterprises should check the quality of its products, not just the quantity as the international market demands more on quality of products, especially food.

“We should not fear what could happen. Other countries are also afraid because of the Philippine’s economic strength,” he said.

Alcala also assured that when it comes to livestock, the country has the edge over other ASEAN countries as well.

“Our livestock are bird flu-free and foot and mouth disease (FMD)-free. We indeed have the advantage,” he said.

To spur further growth in the livestock industry, Alcala suggested that LGUs can initially invest in facilities like Halal dressing plants to cater to the Muslim market in the region.

Alcala emphasized that the national government, or DA alone, cannot prepare the country to become competitive in the AEC.

“Forums like this between LGUs and national government agencies will help us prepare the right strategies,” he said.

He also said that regular programs of DA can be complemented by LGU projects and those availed under the Grassroots Participatory Budgeting Process (GPBP), adding that LGUs and national government agencies should work together to identify and prioritize what are needed most to further develop the agribusiness sector. (Jan Dacumos, DA-AFID)