Let's forge stronger partnerships to make Central Visayas self-sufficient in food, particularly in white corn," hence the challenge tossed by Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala to about 650 participants at a forum organized by the Cebu Coalition for Food Security (CCFS), held at the College of Technological Sciences, in Cebu City.
"If we could increase the harvest of white corn, the region's major staple, to an average of three tons per hectare, then you would be more than sufficient," Alcala told the participants, composed of farmers, local government officials, non-government organization, leaders, organic farming advocates, members of the clergy, and agri-fishery industry stakeholders.
"When achieved, we could ease the pressure on rice supply, and lessen our imports," the DA chief added.
The current average yield of corn in Central Visayas is less than one ton per hectare, according to the DA Region 7 corn program group.
Some 164,770 hectares are planted to corn in Central Visayas, composed of the four provinces of Bohol, Cebu, Negros Oriental, and Siquijor.
Of the total, 95 percent or 157,110 hectares are devoted to white corn for food, and the rest (5 percent or 7,660 hectares) is planted to yellow corn for feed.
Some of the corn areas are irrigated, and thus planted twice a year. Hence, in 2009 the region's total corn area harvested reached 231,473 hectares, producing a harvest of 186,479 tons of both white and yellow corn, for a measly average of 806 kilos per hectare.
On the demand side, Central Visayas has a total population of 6.61 million as of 2009, with a per capita consumption of roughly 44.8 kilograms of white corn, for a total demand of 296,128 tons.
With a three-ton average yield from a little over 230,000 hectares, Central Visayas could produce at least 690,000 tons yearly, which is more than twice the current corn consumption. The region could then ship their surplus to other regions in the Visayas and Mindanao.
Secretary Alcala said the three-ton average harvest could be achieved by providing farmers the right farm inputs such as high-yielding and pest-resistant white corn varieties, and adoption of modern technologies, combined with organic farming.
During the forum, he also encouraged vegetable farmers to diversify into planting semi-temperate crops such as lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots and sweet pea (chicharo) - collectively known as 'chopsuey' vegetables - in cool, hilly areas in Cebu, and other parts in the region.
Traditionally, Cebu farmers raise eggplant, tomato, bitter gourd or ampalaya, string beans and squash or also known as 'pinakbet' vegetables.
He said diversifying into semi-temperate vegetables could be done, as shown successfully by farmers in Quezon province.
Further, he suggested that should practice and adopt a progressive planting schedule so as to avoid oversupply during harvest, and thus enable them to get better prices for their vegetables, This is done by planting on a weekly basis a portion of the total farm area, say, one-fourth to one-half hectare. Harvest would then be done every other week, too.
He said DA will also assist them in marketing their products, with the setting up of farm trading centers in strategic areas in the country.
Among those who attended the forum were Cebu Vice-Governor Vicente Sanchez, Jr., Msgr. Rommel Kintanar of the Archdiocese of Cebu, CCFS Chair Francisco Fernandez, Cebu City Councilor Hilario Davide III, DA Region 7 Dir. Ricardo Oblena, and DA-BFAR 7 Dir. Andres Bojos.