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Agriculture’s plea to the new administration

The new administration must take the imperative of immediately acting on the inadequate Department of Agriculture (DA) budget. Fortunately, we are now on the right track. In the course of 10 days sometime last year, three leading presidential candidates were interviewed by agriculture leaders in a multimedia forum. They discussed a historic document given to them prior to their individual interviews. The candidates were Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso, Vice President Leni Robredo and former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. The two-page document was titled: “Transform Agriculture for Food Security, Job Creation, and Balanced Growth.”

It contained 12 recommendations, which the current government has failed to do. They were formulated and unanimously agreed by five national coalitions (representing different agriculture-related sectors), which has never happened before. The groups were Federation of Free Farmers, representing farmers and fisherfolk; Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc., representing agribusiness; Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines, representing science and the academe; Alyansa Agrikultura, a multisector alliance; and Bayanihan sa Agrikultura, representing civil society.

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Since the new administration will soon be in control of the DA’s 2022 and 2023 budgets, it must focus on both budgets immediately. This will ensure that the directions given during the interviews will be implemented—with the proper budget.

For 2022, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) agreed to only allot P85.8 billion for the DA. This amount is just 1.7 percent of our national budget, less than half of Thailand’s 3.6 percent and Vietnam’s 6.5 percent shares.

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For 2023, the DBM gave an even lower budget ceiling of P71.7 billion. This is opposite the direction given by the presidential candidates, who suggested to at least double the current budget. Consequently, the proposed budget does not have the components to fund the new directions given by the presidential candidates.

The new administration must now adjust the 2022 budget by aligning with the directions provided during the campaign. It should also ensure that the 2023 budget is increased so that the directions provided are also funded.

Three directions

Three key directions for agriculture transformation will not be implemented unless the needed budget is provided.

We basically have a monocrop system in place, such as in the coconut, rice and corn sectors.

In the coconut sector, for example, 2 million hectares out of 3 million ha have nothing planted in between trees. This system can only yield an average annual income of P25,000 a hectare. Intercropping products like cacao and coffee can increase this to P300,000 a hectare.

Note, however, that high-value crops get only 4 percent of the budget, as compared to rice, which gets 40 percent of the budget.

Because we have small fragmented agriculture farms with outdated technologies, we can’t compete against imports nor implement a reasonable export strategy.

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Contrast this with Thailand, whose emphasis on farm clustering and consolidation to achieve economies of scale and shared technology is found in the name: Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. We have neither a concrete plan nor budget for this.

The huge potential of our fisheries and aquaculture, meanwhile, remains untapped. Today, despite its enormous potential, fisheries and aquaculture contributes only 16 percent of our agriculture value added. Furthermore, it gets only 3 percent of the DA budget.

A comprehensive plan with an adequate budget should support this sector. Its poverty level at 30 percent is more than double the rural poverty rate of our neighboring countries.

The new administration must now ensure the that the new agriculture transformation directions given during the multimedia presidential interviews are implemented. Addressing the DA budget inconsistency is a must.

The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of presidential flagship programs and projects, and former undersecretary of the DA and the Department of Trade and Industry. Contact is [email protected]

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TAGS: Department of Agriculture (DA), New administration
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