Agriculture Budget not enough to support sector says Sen. Escudero

Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero said the government should give the agriculture sector a bigger share of the budget if it wanted to boost food production and reduce the country’s dependence on imported grain, particularly rice.

According to Escudero, the P93.4 billion allocated for the Department of Agriculture (DA) under the 2016 national budget “does not go far enough to support the critical needs of the sector that is struggling to provide the food requirements of the population.”

“The government has to pour more funds into the agriculture sector so it can expand programs that aim to boost domestic food production and lessen our dependence on imported agricultural commodities, especially rice, which is the primary staple food of Filipinos,” Escudero said.

Escudero said insufficient funding for the agriculture sector was largely to blame for the failure of the administration to achieve its goal of making the Philippines self-sufficient in rice by 2013.

“And it is unlikely that the country will attain rice self-sufficiency by next year because until now, we still depend on large volumes of rice imports in order to fill the demand of the country’s over 100 million population,” Escudero said.

The Laguna-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has named the Philippines as the largest importer of rice in the world.

In 2014, the country’s rice importation reached 1.7 million metric tons (MT), the biggest under the Aquino administration, and closer to the record 1.8 million MT rice imports during the global food crisis in 2008.

The National Food Authority, the country’s grains procurement agency, said that as of September this year the total volume of rice that entered the country already reached 937,000 MT. It is also set to import 250,000 MT more before the year ends to avert a potential spike in prices of the staple because of El Niño.

Escudero said the DA’s annual budget needed to be increased by two- or three-fold to give the agency more leeway in providing the much-needed support to farmers, who belong to the marginalized sector of society.

He said the agriculture department would need at least P200 billion to address the huge backlog in farm-to-market roads (FMRs), which are crucial in boosting agriculture production and stimulating economic activities in the countryside.

“Right now, the total backlog of FMRs is 28,000 kilometers, which is worth P200 billion. With that, the DA would need almost P70 billion a year to address this backlog in three years,” Escudero explained.

The veteran lawmaker said that aside from FMRs, the government must also offer farmers support programs such as fertilizer and pesticide subsidies, improved access to post-harvest facilities and better irrigation.

Escudero lamented the slight improvement in the number of irrigated agricultural lands in the country during the last 30 years.

“The country’s total irrigated agricultural land is currently pegged at 1.4 million hectares. In 1986, the total number was already 1.3 million hectares. It means only 100,000 hectares of irrigated lands were added since 1986,” Escudero said.

“That’s not enough to increase our food production and meet our food requirement considering that the country’s population has almost doubled since 1986,” he pointed out.

Escudero also cited inadequate irrigation facilities, saying “irrigation infrastructure is not used and maintained, thus reducing productivity potential.


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