Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Alcala clarified that although the government has been proactively working towards increasing the Philippine agriculture sector’s competitive advantage in the ASEAN integration, DA has remained focused on empowering farmers and improving their lives.
Speaking at the 6th Anniversary of the Cordillera Highland Agricultural Resource Management (CHARM) Project and International Year of Family Farming Knowledge and Learning Market and Policy Engagement (KLM-PE) in Baguio City on November 20, 2014, Alcala said that DA is not only improving its programs in anticipation of the increased regional competition in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) but also to further capacitate farmers to be more productive. 
“We just want our farmers get the most out of their efforts. We want them to be empowered. And we need to address the needs of the domestic market,” Alcala stressed.
Alcala explained that development roadmaps have been crafted by DA for each of the major agricultural commodities of the country and meeting the demands of the AEC is only one of its objectives. The primary aim of these roadmaps according to Alcala is to improve farmers’ yields to meet food security targets and increase farmers’ income.
Alcala also reiterated in an interview that the Philippines cannot compete in all commodities so the agriculture sector should focus on what the country are good at. He emphasized though that the country has lots of opportunities like the CHARM project, which can concurrently help farmers to become better prepared for the AEC aside from increasing their productivity.
And as the CHARM project will end next year, Alcala said that farmers in the Cordilleras do not have to worry as they can tap the Philippine Rural Development Program (PRDP) to sustain the successes of the CHARM project.
“The CHARM is good but the PRDP is even better. It will be all based on value-chain analysis. And since we do not stop at production, we can allocate funds for farm-to-market roads to ensure that farmers have access to the market,” Alcala said.
Alcala proposed that champion crops should be identified for mountainous areas like the Cordilleras. He said that DA is now conducting a study on the marketability of chayote as extender in the Middle East, and finalizing production plans for chop suey in tetra packs which can be used as healthier option for relief operations during disasters.
Heirloom rice produced in highlands is also given spotlight in the market, according to Alcala, and to further support this commodity, DA has already started implementing tramline projects. He said that interested local government units can propose but DA has to validate the areas for feasibility.
Alcala encouraged the attendees to replicate good practices under the CHARM project, such as participatory approaches, in other succeeding projects.
“We should take advantage of projects that we have to empower ourselves—we have to encourage farmers to be ready to accept change. And regarding ASEAN, we should see the integration as stimulus for us to improve our production also for our domestic supply and to have quality products for our own consumption,” Alcala emphasized.
Alcala also graced the cultural and awards night of the CHARM project anniversary.  (Jan P. Dacumos, AFID)