Masaganang Agrikultura, Maunlad na Ekonomiya!

“Protecting farmers and fishers is our priority; but we need bigger budget, more investments” – DA Chief

Author: DA Press Office | 4 June 2022

Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar stressed that protecting the interests and welfare of Filipino farmers and fishers is still the priority, and that sourcing additional food from other countries remains a policy of last resort.

“We continue to put premium on protecting our farmers and fishers. Our goal has always been geared toward food security, eventually leading to food sovereignty. We only allow imports to fill in the deficit or what we cannot produce locally,” the DA chief said, amidst criticism that the agency has “made the country food import-dependent” despite abundant land and sea resources, capable of producing food requirements for Filipinos.

“But to attain food sovereignty, we need the ‘political will’ translating it to significant budgetary allocations and investments for the agriculture sector. Saying that the administration supports the country’s food security efforts is one thing, putting the necessary budget to do so, is another thing,” he underscored.

“We’ve successfully done this with rice. By pouring in the necessary budget, we’ve attained 19.96 million metric tons (MMT) of palay, a record harvest in 2021, which is equivalent to 92 percent (%) rice sufficiency,” Secretary Dar said.

“It was the second consecutive year of a record-breaker, as in 2020 we harvested 19.3 MMT, surpassing the previous high of of 18.7 MMT,” the DA chief added.

When he assumed office in 2019, the country’s rice sufficiency level was only at 87%, thus gaining five percentage points in 2021.

“Despite high fertilizer prices and barring strong typhoons in the second half of the year, we look forward to breaching the 20-MMT barrier. And we hope the incoming Marcos administration would continue to pour more financial resources not only in rice, but also in other major commodities, and in the agriculture and fishery sector, in general,” secretary Dar said.

He added that low productivity remains one of the biggest challenges confronting the country’s agriculture sector, attributing it to why successive DA leaderships have resorted to importing food commodities.

“Even President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., who included food sovereignty as one of his priority agenda, mentioned how importation is being forced on us simply because local production is not sufficient,” Secretary Dar added. 

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported that the country’s dependency on imported food has been increasing during the past 30 years due to the fact that local food production was not able to keep up with population growth. 

“We are not producing enough food to feed our people, given the high population growth rate compared to our farm productivity,” Secretary Dar said.

“It was due to the country’s inability to produce enough food locally and our protectionism policy that make food prices in the Philippines higher compared to our ASEAN neighbors,” he added.

This was backed by DA Undersecretary for Policy and Planning Fermin Adriano, citing that it was this discrepancy that Filipino consumers pay usuriously higher for their food compared to other ASEAN countries. 

“For instance, rice prices are more than a third higher than in Vietnam and Thailand. Our consumers pay double the prices of pork and chicken compared to the same countries. The price of refined sugar, which now hovers to around P70 per kilo, is more than twice the prevailing international sugar price,” Adriano said. 

“This is the reason why we need the support of the local government units (LGUs) and the private sector. LGUs must elevate their game in performing their mandated task in agricultural development. The Local Government Code of 1991, strengthened further by the recent ‘Mandanas-Garcia Ruling of the Supreme Court,’ assigned the role of delivering extension support and other basic services to the LGUs to their farmer- and fisher-constituents,” Secretary Dar stressed.

“We also call on the private sector to pour much-needed investments in high-value crops, like what has been done with our export champions, pineapple and banana,” he added. PSA’s self-sufficiency ratio (SSR) in banana remained the highest in 2020 at 172% followed by pineapple, at 128% percent.

“We also need to invest in logistics and postharvest facilities. Given its current budget and resources, the DA cannot do it alone. Now, more than ever, we need the private sector to dive in and help in getting back the economy in full vibrancy. Our country may have vast natural resources, but we direly lack the big budgetary support to move mountains,” the agri chief concluded. ### (Rita dela Cruz)

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