(Adds quotes from agriculture minister, background)
MANILA, Dec 20 (Reuters) - Philippine farm output growth could speed up to 7 percent to 8 percent next year as the Southeast Asian nation looks to ship more agricultural products to markets like China, the agriculture minister said.
China lifted a ban on Philippine exports of pineapples and bananas in October and pledged to import more fish and farm products from the Southeast Asian nation after President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to build a commercial alliance with Beijing.
“Our farmers are upbeat nowadays because of the opening of new export markets for them,” Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol told a media briefing on Tuesday.
Next year’s growth target in agriculture would outpace this year’s forecast of a 3.5 percent to 5.0 percent increase. Piñol said 2016 growth would be supported by another bumper rice harvest in the final quarter, thanks largely to favourable weather.
He expected unmilled rice output to rise to 18.57 million tonnes next year from a projected 17.9 million tonnes this year as the government increases support to farmers by providing more seeds and irrigation services.
The moves should boost average yield per hectare to six tonnes in some areas from close to four tonnes currently, he said.
Piñol said the Philippines, one of the world’s biggest rice importers, was on track to be self sufficient in rice production by 2019.
Agriculture accounts for about a tenth of the country’s gross domestic product, but Piñol said he wants to raise the sector’s contribution to overall economic output to 20 percent. (Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Manolo Serapio Jr. and Richard Pullin)