More budget can unlock agriculture’s full potential

THE Department of Agriculture (DA) needs more budgetary support to implement all necessary programs towards increasing the country’s food sufficiency level across all commodities.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar during The Manila Times forum titled “Prospects of Agriculture beyond the Covid pandemic” on Thursday highlighted that one way to intensify growth in key areas of the agri-fishery sector is to, first, be equipped with enough funds from the national government, for the complete implementation of various development programs.

This is not the case, however, for the DA during the past years, according to Dar, who lamented the agency is, in fact, “underfunded,” which prevents the development of Philippine agriculture’s full potential.

“Do we have enough budgetary support for the sector of agriculture? We don’t have.

That’s not only in this time around but previously. It’s underfunded. We need more resources to really unlock the potentials of the sector,” Dar said.

“In annual budget, we’re only getting 2.5 percent, supposedly if you have P4.5-trillion
budget, we should be getting 9 percent of that but we’re only getting small amount,” he added.

In November last year, the Senate approved the proposed P85.58-billion budget of the DA, including those of its bureaus, and attached agencies and corporations.

Senator Cynthia Villar was one among the lawmakers who defended the DA’s proposed budget, highlighting that the agri-fishery sector was the only economic subsector that posted positive growth as the country plunged into recession amid the coronavirus deiase 2019 pandemic (Covid-19), and prior to the onslaught of the successive typhoons that hit Luzon in October and November.

The bulk or P60.9 billion of the DA’s 2021 proposed budget is allocated to the Office of the Secretary, which includes funding for seven commodity banner programs, bureaus, central and regional field offices, as well as locally-funded and foreign-assisted projects.

The said fund is allocated in various banner programs namely rice (P15.5 billion); corn (P1.5 billion); high-value crops (P1.6 billion); livestock (P1.17 billion); fisheries, (P3.12 billion); organic agriculture (P665 million); and halal (P23.9 million).

Meanwhile, Dar recalled the new record in rice production achieved in 2020 or 19.44 million metric tons (MT). This figure, which is higher than the 18.81 million MT produced in 2019 and the 19.07 million MT recorded in 2018, was achieved despite the major typhoons that hit several provinces and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Agriculture chief pointed out that this development was mainly due to then rice sector being “heavily-funded,” only proving that enough budgetary support is a necessity for a government agency to fully function and abide by its mandates.

“So, this is a showcase that if you have significant investment, then you have a higher rate of return. In this case, higher level of productivity and you’re able to bring it up to 90 percent of rice sufficiency level.”

For 2022, Dar earlier said that the DA was looking to propose a budget higher than P90 billion, mainly to establish a “buffer fund” that would allow the agency to procure farm and fishery products during emergencies.