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Dangerous attitude toward agriculture

The dangerous uncaring attitude toward agriculture has been a major factor in our rural poverty rate, now at 32 percent, worse than those of our neighbors (e.g., Vietnam, 17 percent; Indonesia 15 percent, and Malaysia, 2 percent). If we continue to ignore agriculture, the danger of increased poverty, severe health issues, and peace and order problems will escalate. Agriculture today contributes 35 percent directly and indirectly to our gross domestic product.

Budget support

Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) governments provide agriculture its needed budget support. For example, as a percentage of their national budgets, Vietnam provides agriculture 5.6 percent and Thailand, 3 to 4 percent, while the Philippines gives only 1 to 2 percent. We used to be a leader in agriculture in the region but now, we are the only net food importer and the laggard in the Asean. The lack of budget support was evident when the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) approved only 22 percent and 30 percent of what the Department of Agriculture (DA) had proposed for 2020 and 2021, respectively.

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Because of the devolution of agriculture-related funds to local government units (LGUs) due to the Mandanas Ruling, the DBM may cut the DA budget even further for 2022. Agriculture-related devolved funds would be a blessing if the LGUs are prepared to use these funds effectively. But the disastrous misuse of devolved agriculture extension funds in the past must compel the government to prepare the LGUs properly this time.

The devolved funds amount to a 55-percent increase (or P234.6 billion) in the LGUs Internal Revenue Allocation. The Alyansa Agrikultura joined in the May 18 to May 19 National Security Summit recommendation that at least 10 percent of these devolved funds should be earmarked for agriculture. Each LGU’s response should be reported to the farmers, especially as the elections near.

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It is disappointing why the DBM consistently denies the DA’s larger budget proposals. When Sen. Franklin Drilon asked why the DA budget was reduced from P70.8 billion in 2020 to P66.4 billion in 2021, Economic Planning Secretary Karl Chua said: “We have been putting hundreds of billions in agriculture over many years, and why is it that the sector has not helped the farmers rise up the income ladder? Agriculture growth should be at least 2 percent (my note: for nine years, agriculture averaged 1.6 percent growth compared to industry’s 6.8 percent). This is not only about the amount of money in the budget, it is how we allocate and use them.”

Attention to management

Since the DBM is supposed to help in both budget and management, it should now also address the management dimension. It should proactively work with the DA to identify the problems and institute management solutions and performance improvement measures. We must stop this pattern of rejecting the DA recommendations at the expense of the farmers and fisherfolk.

In addition, not providing the necessary agriculture support services while cutting tariffs to encourage more imports of subsidized products is unfair to our nonsubsidized producers. We have seen this repeatedly. Import liberalization is favorable because it eliminates cartels and promotes needed competition. But it must be implemented responsibly.

For example, our agriculture rice yield increased because of the additional P10 billion budget support from the rice tariffication law (RTL). But even without RTL, this budget support by itself would have resulted in the same increased yield. This support should have been given a long time ago. It would have prepared us for the tariff cut to 35 percent, which decreased our farmers’ net income by more than 30 percent. The responsible way was to have implemented the safeguards encouraged by the World Trade Organization and the Republic Act No. 8800 law, then remove them on a strict time table with the necessary support services.

The recent July 1 House of Representatives hearing chaired by Rep. Mark Enverga once again showed the disregard our farmers are getting. The issue was the rice tariff reduction for non-Asean rice from 50 percent to 35 percent. Federation of Free Farmers chair Leonardo Montemayor documented the lack of due process given to the farmers and the reduction’s harmful effects on them. But this was of no use since the executive order has already been signed.

The solution, therefore, is to stop this dangerous attitude of not supporting our farmers, which further increases rural poverty and the sufferings of our farmers and fisherfolk. In its coming budget deliberations, Congress must consider increasing agriculture support. It is about time we promote good economic sense and justice for the disadvantaged agriculture sector that has been ignored for too long. INQ

The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of presidential programs and projects and former undersecretary of DA and DTI. Contact is [email protected]

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TAGS: Agriculture, Poverty
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