As the challenges faced by the agriculture sector failed to make it to President Rodrigo Duterte’s previous State of the Nation Address (SONA) and recent pronouncements, agriculture stakeholders are no longer fooling themselves about the next and forthcoming annual address, setting almost zero expectations of it.
“Agriculture has rarely been in his [Duterte’s] agenda or focus in his speeches and policy pronouncements,” Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) National Manager Raul Montemayor said in a text exchange.
He said this as he was asked about farmers’ expectations for the upcoming SONA, which will be delivered by Duterte on July 27 (Monday).
“We are not optimistic about any major improvement in the government’s support for agriculture, whether in terms of policies, programs or budgetary outlays,” he further said.
When asked about the same thing, Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI) President Danilo Fausto agreed that the Duterte administration has not been giving priority to the agriculture sector and to the plight of the farmers.
“I don’t think we can expect anything from PRRD [President Rodrigo Roa Duterte] in his SONA,” Fausto said in a text message. “Their idea of food security is to import at the expense of the farmers and fishers”.
Right now, Fausto is one of the agriculture group leaders calling out the Department of Agriculture (DA) for its allegedly strong importation policy.
“The danger [of being dependent on importation] is when exporting countries refused to sell their products in order to protect their own people or when the country of origin is infected by diseases or COVID-19 making their products unacceptable as exports to feed our people,” Fausto said.
Hence, despite his pessimism, he said he still wishes Duterte to act on the immediate suspension of importation of poultry and other agriculture products.
Montemayor, for his part, believes there’s also a need for the President to address the lack of a clear policy guideline on managing imports to prevent supply gluts and drastic drops in farmgate prices of rice, poultry, vegetables and other farm products.
He said Duterte must also order for higher and more sustained budgetary support for agriculture.
Meanwhile, unlike Fausto and Montemayor, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said he is hopeful that Duterte will “highlight the importance of agriculture” in his next SONA “much more during the new normal”.
“Ensuring food security is as important as the fight against Covid 19. We are hopeful that increasing budgetary support will be there for 2021 for us to increase food sufficiency levels in the country,” Dar further said.
The DA is currently asking the Congress for an annual budget of P280 billion for 2021. This is more than three times higher than the P64.7 billion the agency received for this year.
The budget is intended to sustain, reboot, and grow the agriculture and fisheries sector amid the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dar said.
Dar said that the “glaring reality” right now is that the agricultural sector contributes around 10 percent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but the share it gets from the total national budget for the past ten years is only around 3 percent to 5 percent.
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