AMONG the three major sectors of the Philippine economy, agriculture was least affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

While the country’s GDP shrunk by 9.5% last year, the agriculture sector contracted by a negligible 0.02% compared to its 2019 level. In contrast, the services sector fell by 5.5% and the industry sector dropped by 4.0% during the same period. Agriculture has thus become a key pillar in the country’s economic recovery efforts.

Highlighting this pivot was the 14th Bright Leaf Agriculture Journalism Awards honoring journalists who bring agricultural issues to the fore in the national and regional conversations. The 2021 awarding ceremony was held for the first time in virtual format last July 28.

When the Bright Leaf’s inaugural edition was launched in 2007, it had less than a hundred entries. Philip Morris Philippines sponsored the competition during its first three years and handed it over starting 2010 to PMFTC Inc., the joint venture between Philip Morris International and Fortune Tobacco Corp.

This year, more than 600 entries were submitted from across the archipelago, vying for awards in the print, broadcast, and online categories. The BusinessMirror had the most number of winners and made history as the first broadsheet to garner four major awards in a single edition of the Bright Leaf.

Agriculture and commodities reporter Jasper Emmanuel Y. Arcalas received the Oriental Leaf Award after winning five Bright Leaf awards in different categories that qualified him for the Hall of Fame. Previously he won twice in 2017 and twice in 2018 for news and features categories, capped by his fifth Bright Leaf award in 2019 as co-author of the Tobacco Story of the Year.

Veteran reporter Cai U. Ordinario won two awards, namely: the Tobacco Story of the Year for her piece on gold leaf farming, and the Best National News Story for investigative report on the rice trade liberalization law. She co-authored both stories with Arcalas under the supervision of Senior Editor Dennis D. Estopace.

Photojournalist Erwin M. Mascariñas bagged the award for Agriculture Photo of the Year for his shot that portrayed drying fish in Siargao, which was published in the tourism page of the BusinessMirror. In 2016 and 2017, he also won in the same category.

PMFTC President Denis Gorkun said the 2021 theme of “Reimagining Tomorrow” is very appropriate for the Bright Leaf community since “our agility to adapt and pivot were tested in this unprecedented global crisis.”

For his part, PMFTC Communications Director Dave Gomez told the winners: “Your stories are the stories that matter to us. Your eyes are our windows to our farmers’ plight. Your masterpieces are a reminder of the industry concerns we should pay attention to.”

Louise Maureen Simeon of the Philippine Star won the Agriculture Story of the Year award for her article on rice tarrification, while the Tobacco Photo of the Year award went to Wilfredo Lomibao of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Winning twice this time was Baguio Chronicle’s Frank Cimatu for Best Regional Feature Story about the effects of the quarantine on the Cordillera farming sector, and Best Story on Tobacco Product Alternatives regarding the possibility that the local tobacco industry will produce the first Filipino vaccine against Covid-19.

The Best National Feature Story award went to Inquirer business reporter Karl Angelica Ocampo for her piece on MovefoodPH, while Erwin Nicavera of SunStar Bacolod obtained the Best Regional News Story award for his report on urban farming amid the pandemic.

Manila Bulletin’s online agriculture publication produced a winner for the Best Online Story Award, Vina Medenilla of www.agriculture.com.ph for her story about agri-tourism. Named the winner for Best Radio Program or Segment was Rose Malekchan of DZWT Radyo Totoo for her program about wild berries. The Best TV Program or Segment award went to GMA 7’s Team MMPI for their segment on the Agriculture Technical Institute.

Palanca Hall of Famer and multi-awarded author Alfred Yuson, who chaired the board of judges, summed up this year’s Bright Leaf awards aptly: “It is during these times of uncertainty and despair when our desire for creativity is on fire.”

Joseph Gamboa is the co-chairman of the Finex Annual Conferences for 2020-2021, chairman of the Finex Business Columns Subcommittee and director of Noble Asia Industrial Corp. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinion of these institutions and the BusinessMirror.


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