MANILA, Philippines – Does the 2015 agricultural budget allocated by the Aquino administration address the many challenges Philippine agriculture faces in 2015?
One of the most pressing concerns is the looming ASEAN Economic Integration which will flood the country with cheaper agricultural products from other Southeast Asian countries.
The agriculture sector is also yet to reach its target of 100% rice self-sufficiency, a goal that would’ve been reached last 2013 if not, according to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, for the extensive damage wrought by Super Typhoon Yolanda.
Farmers and fisherfolk continue to be one of the poorest in the country. Smuggling and hoarding of agricultural goods remain a rampant problem, hiking up prices for consumers and cornering markets from local farmers.
With the Philippine population already at 100 million, the country has to ensure food security for the inevitable population increase in the years ahead – food security constantly threatened by yearly natural calamities that destroy millions of pesos worth of crops.
With these challenges in mind, how does the Aquino administration aim to fund agriculture in 2015?
In the 2015 National Budget submitted to Congress, the Department of Agriculture was the government agency that received the 7th highest budget – P88.818 billion (US$2.03 billion*).
The Agricultural Development Program
Subtracting DA employee salaries from the budget, the government plans to spend P86.1 billion ($1.97 billion) on the Agricultural Development Program, which integrates the budgets of the DA and its attached agencies and corporations.
The program will focus on the following:
- Meet rice production and consumption targets through the DA
- Irrigate more agricultural lands through the National Irrigation Administration (NIA)
- Provide buffer stocking to prepare for any shortages through the National Food Authority (NFA)
- Provide credit for farmers and fisherfolk through the Agriculture Credit Policy Council
- Boost research and development for agriculture through the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice)
President Benigno Aquino III, in his budget message, made it clear that strengthening the agricultural sector was a key strategy in the government’s goal of expanding the economy and creating more jobs. (READ: Pangilinan: Want economic growth? Put farmers, fisherfolk first)
The government aims to increase the productivity of the agriculture and fisheries sector to 3.4% to 4.5% growth in Gross Value Added by 2016. This should improve the lives of 1.685 million poor farmers and 346,345 poor fisherfolk, Aquino said.
Investments in agriculture infrastructure focused on the top 33 rice-producing provinces.
P26 billion ($595.1 million) will go to irrigation with the goal of bringing irrigation to 20,650 hectares of agricultural land and repairing existing irrigation facilities servicing 23,200 hectares of land.
The goal is to enable farmers to produce 4.48 metric tons of rice per hectare. Currently, Filipino farmers are only able to produce 3.6 metric tons of rice per hectare, according to University of the Philippines Los Baños Dean of Agriculture Domingo Angeles.
Another P14.5 billion ($331.9 million) was allocated for farm-to-market roads (FMRs), crucial to helping farmers bring their goods to consumers. FMRs reduce transportation costs for farmers and minimize post-harvest losses.
It also improves access to food, contributing to food security, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The agriculture budget will also go to promoting crop diversification so farmers are encouraged to plant more than one type of crop and thus diversify their sources of income.
Farmers will also be taught how to plant more high-value crops with the goal of increasing the profit they make for every hectare they own.
The Philippines achieved 96% rice self-sufficiency when local farmers produced 18.44 million metric tons of rice in 2013, the country’s highest rice production in history, according to the DA.
The country became Asia’s fastest rice producer when it clocked in a 2.71% improvement in milled rice production from 2010 to 2013, said PhilRice quoting data from a US Department of Agriculture report on world market and trade of rice.
Calamities and the need to maintain a year-round buffer stock are reasons why the Philippines continues to import rice.
But Alcala said the government prioritized self-sufficiency programs over rice importation. From 2011 to 2013, support for local farmers was almost 4 times more than payments for rice importation, he said.
Boost for fisheries, coconut sector
Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) Director Asis Perez got his wish for an increased 2015 budget. (READ: PH oceans in crisis: The sad state of small fisherfolk)
BFAR, an attached agency of the DA, was given P6.02 billion ($137.8 million) – a 28% increase from its 2014 budget of P4.92 billion ($112.6 million).
However, this is P80 million ($1.8 million) short of the 2015 budget Perez was eyeing based on a press release saying he was hoping for a budget of P6.1 billion ($139.5 million).
The budget support for fisheries will focus on the top 52 municipal fishing sites in the country. Funds will go to fish landings, fishports, post-harvest facilities, credit services and farm-to-market roads.
A large chunk of the budget will fund the construction of 252 fish landings. Fish landings are where fishermen unload their catch and from where the catch is picked up for distribution to markets.
According to the FAO, landing sites should provide basic services for fishermen including a fuel station, engine repair workshop, boat repair area, fishing gear repair area and fish handling and processing facilities.
Another DA agency to enjoy a significant budget increase is the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).
The PCA budget increased by 71.9% from its 2014 budget. Aquino said the allocated P4.09 billion ($93.6 million) will go to the construction of farm-to-market roads, the planting and replanting of coconut trees, the eradication and control of pests and the development of coconut enterprise sites and coco agroindustrial hubs.
The coconut industry is still reeling from a coconut pest epidemic that has infested more than 2.1 million coconut trees in Calabarzon and Basilan in Mindanao.
The PCA is already using P750 million ($17.15 million) of its 2014 budget to control the pest outbreak by end of December.
But P86.1 billion for the agricultural sector may not be enough to secure food and reduce poverty in the countryside, Gani Serrano of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) told Rappler.
While any increase in government spending for agriculture is a welcome development, he said that FMRs, credit, irrigation and other infrastructure are only the “essential minimum.”
“Agriculture, with little or no connection at all to industry is a cul-de-sac,” he said.
More efforts should be made to enable farmers to semi-process their own products and improve the marketing and distribution of local agricultural products.
Support programs for farmers will also be in vain if farmers are not organized, said Raul Montemayor of the Federation of Free Farmers Cooperatives Inc (FFFCI).
Most government programs, such as those providing farming machines, free seeds and fertilizer, are designed to benefit farmer associations and not individual farmers.
It’s also easier to link farmers to markets (like restaurant chains, supermarkets, food processing companies) if they are organized.
“The market is there but farmers are not organized for the market. Restaurants, groceries are buying farm products everyday but the ones supplying them are the trader who gets it from different farmers. Farmers can go straight to the market if they form a cooperative,” Montemayor told Rappler.
There was also no mention in the budget’s salient points of improving land tenure for farmers, a vital component to improving farmers’ lives. Without land tenure, giant companies or landlords can easily take over farmers’ lands, disrupting their productivity and driving them further into poverty.
The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER), the government’s land distribution program, can no longer cover more land until Congress passes a bill to extend the deadline for land coverage.
This delay keeps more farmers waiting for rights to their land. Without land rights, they lack rights to till the land and produce more agricultural products for the country.
The 2015 National Budget submitted by Aquino must still go through Congress for approval.
Budget hearings will be scheduled in the coming days for lawmakers and other stakeholders to scrutinize and question the budget allocations. – Rappler.com
(US$1 = P43.69)
Rice harvest in the Philippines image from Shutterstock
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