The Department of Agriculture (DA) will need P280 billion to make sure the Philippines will not suffer from a food crisis in the next years to come amid the expected long-term impact of COVID-19 pandemic to the country’s overall economy.
In a budget hearing in Congress yesterday, Agriculture Secretary William Dar presented the proposed budget of P280 billion for financial year 2021 for the agriculture sector, which is more than three times higher than the P64.7 billion the DA received for this year.
“We seek your highest approval of our budget proposal for the coming year. What lies in your hands right now is the food security and resiliency of the country, the future of the 109 million Filipinos and counting,” Dar told the lawmakers.
“The budget is intended to sustain, reboot, and grow the agriculture and fisheries sector amid the challenges brought by the pandemic,” he added.
During the hearing, Dar called the attention of the lawmakers to the “glaring reality” 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.
“I wish to underscore the need to ensure parity between the contribution of the sector to the economy and the resources that it gets from the national coffer. This, if we are to ensure that agriculture, being the sleeping giant as it is, can finally contribute its full potential in the Philippine economic recovery and national development efforts,” Dar said.
He also cited a United Nations’ (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report that said that the number of people experiencing acute food insecurity in crisis or worse has reached the highest level of the past four years.
In 2019 alone, more than 135 million people across 55 countries and territories experienced acute food insecurity.
“Globally, the threat of hunger is as real and as palpable as the threat of COVID-19. And as we all know, when food is scarce, anarchy is not far behind,” Dar said.
“The Philippines is not spared from such a scenario as the past 11 months had been one of the most challenging periods for the Philippine agriculture,” he added.
The P280-billion budget, he said, will be used to make sure the country will have enough of its main staple, rice, and ensure that its price don’t go up; to address the continuous African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreaks in the country; and help the agriculture sector survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
In June, Dar said the agriculture sector is still at a “survival stage” and it will stay that way until the next six months.
“Under the survival stage is to really increase our food sufficiency level in all commodities. We need to develop the domestic industries and anything that we don’t produce here, we import it,” Dar said.
“We also need to maximize the use of science and technology in production areas and we should open up more agricultural lands,” he added.
To “survive”, the DA has already requested the Congress for a stimulus package of P66 billion to ease the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the agriculture sector.
This will be used to provide cash for work programs for agri-fishery workers, improve food logistics or food markets, and bankroll the DA’s “Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat” (Alpas) Kontra sa Covid-19 Program.
The cash for work program targets to provide jobs to one million agri-fishery workers by granting each beneficiary aid amounting to P15,000.