BFAR: Agriculture’s Top Performer
BFAR’s Atty Malcom I. Sarmiento, Jr. briefs the MARID Agribusiness Digest on the Bureau’s accomplishments for the year.
By: Ronald G. Mangubat
BFAR is also pushing for the construction of a tilapia processing plant in Mindanao.
Yes. In fact, we have already allocated Php10 million for that. One reason why we want to implement this because, although the Philippines is number two in tilapia production next to China, our export for this commodity has yet to pick up. The number one market for tilapia fillet now is the US-it’s getting its supply from 15 countries including Africa, South America and Asia, but the Philippines is not there! One of the reasons is that tilapia production in our country is only concentrated in one region. As you well know, 60% of our tilapia production comes from Central Luzon, and the people on that area, as well as in Metro Manila are good tilapia eaters. So when the tilapia grows to 150 grams, there’s already a market. Tilapia is thus not grown to a size (at least 500 grams) suitable for fillets. So, we thought of converting this area in Northern Mindanao into tilapia fillet country. Currently, what is preventing us from fully implementing this project is we don’t have that much people who are willing to go into tilapia culture. We’re still trying to convince them.
What about your program for seaweeds?
We have an ongoing project for the construction of a seaweeds park and a seaweeds processing plant in Parang, Maguindanao. We’re also launching one in Tawi-Tawi early next year. We have jumpstarted seaweeds production in non-traditional seaweeds growing areas like Ilocos, La Union and Pangasinan since two years ago.
We have recently heard that the country is already growing Penaeus vannamei?
It took us some time to make the decision but we have now officially opened up the culture of vannamei. We have so far accredited four hatcheries. One is in Bohol, the second is in Cebu, the third in Iloilo and the other one in Pangasinan. Vannamei production will surely increase our production of shrimp. We have a high of 86,000 tons production in the late ‘80s and then it went down to as low as 18,000 tons in the ‘90s. Last year, it was 36,000 tons. Now with the entry of vannamei , we might reach 50,000 tons production for this year.
And you’re also promoting polyculture?
Yes. We’re trying to convince people that with a 5,000- square meter area, you can actually put there three different commodities. You can have a primary crop. The best combination that we have seen is grouper, crabs and tilapia. That combination has a natural synergy. There are other combinations: bangus and crab; sugpo and bangus, etc. aside from this, we are also promoting what we call aquasilvi or mangrove-friendly aquaculture. Here, you don’t have to cut any tree; instead a system of canals is dug where the fishes go during the low tide. During high tide, the fishes will go out of the canal. The whole area is fenced using nets, so you can put crabs and other fishes inside. Ideally, the total area should be around two hectares.
Do you have any programs for people in the mountain areas who are always deprived of fish?
For the mountain provinces, we introduced a new project which we call fish terraces to show that even in mountainous areas, we can culture fish. The Cordilleras, for example, is only 15% sufficient in fish! With projects like this, fish terraces, as well as fish-in-tanks and fish condos using drums; we would be able to cut the deficit. Here, we will make sure that we will not touch the Banaue mountain terraces because that’s already a national heritage. There are other idle terraces which we want to tap and some of this are allotted to rice. Here we aim to grow tilapia, carp and ulang. For the Cordilleras, we are importing 1,000 grass carps which we aim to grow into breeders. They will be coming from Thailand. We aimed for this kind of carp because we don’t need to give them feeds. As you probably aware of, there are many vegetable peelings in the Cordilleras and we could use that as feeds.
Aside from this, we are likewise pushing for fish condos in order to promote what we call urban aquaculture. If you have a small space in your backyard, you can use around five to six drums and actually grow ulang, hito, tilapia and the new emerging darling of agriculture which is the pangasius.
We are also promoting the culture of sea cucumbers, abalone and sea urchins because these are high value of fishes and we believe that they would be able to give our farmers and fisherfolks added income.
What are BFAR’s achievements in the area of research?
One of our major breakthroughs is the culture of sugpo in marine waters, which are usually grown in brackish water ponds. We have already experimented with this kind of fish culture of two cropping seasons. The first experiment was done in Dais, Bohol. The second one was in Negros. Our initial findings say it’s possible to grow sugpo in marine waters using fish pens. In marine waters, you have practically no power cost. You don’t need paddle wheels because the ocean’s current is free flowing.
We are also continuing our research has already resulted in several breakthroughs. We have developed brackish water tilapia and high saline tolerant tilapia. We are now trying to develop the cold tolerant tilapia for the highlands.
We are likewise continuing our experiments on various fishing systems. We have a lot of conventions to which the Philippines is a party. We’re disseminating information that it’s forbidden to catch our rare turtles.
Together with the Philippine Fishery Development Authority, we have been mandated to established postharvest fishery infrastructure facility like ice plants, fish landings, fish ports, etc. Under postharvest operations, I am also happy to report that the Philippines, particularly the DA-BFAR, has been accepted by the European Union as the competent authority to implement HACCP or the international standards for food safety.
We’ve heard you’re also conducting continuous studies for new fishing grounds.
Yes. Actually were validating the reports of some Japanese scientists that somewhere in the northern part of our ocean-still part of the Philippine territory-is the world’s only warm water breeding grounds for blue fin, which is the most expensive kind of tuna. Blue fin sells at US$70 per kilo. That’s why we have caught a lot of Taiwanese poachers in that area. They go there for the blue fin. What’s worse is that some of them to catch the blue fin in their gravid stage. Once we have validated that, we will be asking the international community to help us establish a management plan in the area.
What about in the area of extension work?
We have conducted what we call the fisheries technology caravan. It was participated in by experts and scientists of SEAFDEC, BFAR, PCAMRRD and other private companies where technologies in breeding, production enhancement and postharvest are disseminated to many people in the countryside.
We also form cooperatives and people’s and as I have said earlier, we’re conducting a lot of market-matching activities.
Under BFAR’s regulatory function, what are your measures to interdict poachers?
We are operating several fast patrol boats which we got from Spain. These are 30-meter boats and we have 10 of these and four smaller which are 11 meters. For the 30-meter boats, they have been deployed all over the country. We have scored several victories in catching poachers. In fact, we have caught two vessels in Cagayan (region 2) and they are now facing charges-two Taiwanese vessels, three Chinese and two Vietnamese vessels in Palawan and one Malaysian vessel in ARMM. We have a MOA with the Philippine Coast Guard and they are helping us in this operation.
BFAR is also the lead agency in the control and monitoring of Harmful Algal Bloom. We monitor areas which are prone to red tide. At present, there are five areas in the Philippines which are on red tide alert. The most severe is the Sorsogon bay where some fatalities resulted because of the people’s disregard to our warnings. We also have a core of inspectors to see to it that our enterprises in exporting fishery goods are complying with the HACCP. Likewise, part of our regulatory function is the inventory of municipal areas, issuance of licenses and import permits.
What about your program on coastal resource management?
The decreasing catch in our capture fisheries, particularly in municipal fisheries makes CRM a very important program in our fish conservation efforts. This has three components. We drum up awareness in what we call IEC, we provide patrol boats for our Bantay Dagat proram and we provide alternative livelihood to our displaced fisherfolks. We continuously encourage LGUs to establish sanctuaries. Would you believe that the Philippines has the most number of fish sanctuaries in the world? I attribute the increase in production of capture fisheries, particularly in municipal fisheries from these interventions.
You also play vital role in the formulation of plans and policies?
Yes. We are still trying to amend the fisheries code and we have already prepared a set of amendments for consideration by Congress. We are packaging and promoting investment fisheries opportunities. We are also on top of the preparations for fisheries administrative orders and of course, the overall policy formulation.
marid Agribusiness Digest
vol. 18 * no.8