Lawmakers push for bigger agriculture budget

In budget hearings by the House appropriations committee last week, congressmen proposed increases in the funding for the Department of Agriculture and Department of Agrarian Reform.
STAR/Andy G. Zapata Jr., file

MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers are pushing for a bigger allocation for the agriculture sector in the national budget for next year.

In budget hearings by the House appropriations committee last week, congressmen proposed increases in the funding for the Department of Agriculture (DA) and Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte, Quezon Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga, agriculture committee chairman; and Ang Magsasaka party-list Rep. Argel Cabatbat all cited the need to finance key programs of the DA and DAR to enable both agencies to aid farmers and businesses in the sector to recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Villafuerte proposed an increase of P2 billion in the P8.8-billion budget of DAR for the establishment of “mega farms” that would energize Philippine agriculture and achieve food security during the expected prolonged pandemic.

He sought the increase in the P3-billion budget for capital outlay of DAR.

“If there is one thing that the ongoing global health crisis has taught us 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 across the globe,” he stressed.

It was learned during the committee hearing that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) only approved a 2021 allocation of P8.8 billion for DAR, which is a 7 percent decline in the department’s budget of P9.5 billion this year.

DAR Undersecretary Bernie Cruz said during the panel hearing that such proposed budget by the DBM would not suffice to implement the Mega Farms and Food Security Program.

On the other hand, Cabatbat and Enverga supported the request of the DA for an increase of P42 billion in its P86.3-billion proposed budget for next year.
“If our agriculture won’t revolutionize, then our country will not prosper,” Cabatbat stressed.

During budget hearings, DA Secretary William Dar asked lawmakers for additional funding after DBM cut their budget request by almost P200 billion in the 2021 National Expenditure Program submitted to Congress.

The DA had requested for P284 billion for next year, but the DBM approved only P86.3 billion and instead set another P66.4-billion stimulus fund for farmers and businesses in the agriculture sector severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Dar told lawmakers that the budget cut would have an impact on the agency’s plan to implement programs to improve farm production next year to secure food supply amid previous threats made by trade partners to stop food exports to prioritize their needs during the pandemic.

The official revealed that they also plan to reinstate the warehouse receipt system in corn and intensify market linkages between farmers and feed millers in the country to address the woes of the corn farmers due to low farm-gate prices.

He also cited the need to invest in developing the agriculture sector, which he said has a big contribution to the country’s economy.

Dar pointed out that agriculture has been contributing about 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and yet its budget share in the past 10 years has been a measly 3 percent of the national budget.

“We wish to underscore the need to ensure parity between the contribution of the sector to the economy and resources it gets from the national coffers. This if we are to ensure that agriculture, being the sleeping giant it is, can finally contribute its full potential to the Philippine economy,” he said.