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A bigger role in nat’l  economy

The agricultural sector in the country contributes around 10 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but its share of funds in the national budget in the last 10 years has been a measly 3 to 5 percent, Secretary of Agriculture William Dar said in recent virtual hearings of the House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture and Food.

With this observation, he proposed a budget of P284.4 billion for 2021, a nearly 256 percent increase from the 2020 budget of P79.9 billion – P55.9 billion for the rice sub-sector, P6.6 billion for corn, P13.7 billion for high-value crops, P11.2 billion for livestock, P22.5 billion for fisheries, P960 million for organic agriculture, and P3 billion for other support programs.

That was in July, four months into the lockdowns imposed all over the country as the COVID-19 swept through the country and throughout the entire world. In the ensuing emergency, the government had to spend huge amounts to keep the economy going, including aid for poor people who had lost their livelihood and income.

Congress enacted a stimulus law, the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, with a budget of P140 billion. The Department of Agriculture asked for P66 billion with which it hoped to increase food production, establish food markets, and set up cash-for-work programs in the agricultural sector, but was given only P17 billion.

Congress is now preparing the national budget for 2021 and many congressmen, knowing that agriculture could be a major factor in the country’s economic recovery, are pushing for a bigger funding for the DA as well as for the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte, long with Quezon Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and Ang Magsasaka partylist Rep. Argel Cabatbat cited the need to finance the programs of both the DA and DAR to help the country recover from the impact of the pandemic.

“If there is one thing that the ongoing global health crisis has taught us, it is the primacy of self-sufficiency, as countries isolate themselves and shutter their businesses in a frantic bid to prevent the spread of a highly infectious pathogen that has sickened more than 27 million people and killed over 900,000 around the globe,” Villafuerte said.

Before the pandemic, Secretary Dar had merely sought a greater role for agriculture in the national economy. The world situation has now drastically changed, with many countries cutting down on trade and other relations with other countries for fear of new COVID-19 infestations along with great economic losses.

As Congressman Villafuerte pointed out, we may have to depend heavily on our own resources in the coming months and years, particularly in food for our people. Our leaders must ensure that our agricultural sector will be able to assume this role, starting with better funding in the national budget.

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