House panel favors budget hike for DA

The House Committee on Appropriations has moved to hike the budget allocated for the Department of Agriculture (DA) next year by at least P42 billion to be able to boost the farm sector’s productivity and growth during and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.

The motion was raised by Ang Magsasaka Party-list Rep. Argel Cabatbat during the committee hearing on the 2021 proposed budget of the DA.

The motion was seconded by the House Committee on Agriculture Chairman and Quezon First District Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga.

The motion was made after Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said that some of the projects that they plan to implement next year to improve farm production would not push through as their proposed budget of P284 billion was not approved.

Under the national expenditure program for next year, the DA would receive P86.3 billion, which is about 8 percent lower than its 2020 budget of nearly P80 billion.

Dar appealed to lawmakers that maybe it would be possible that the P42 billion out of the P66-billion stimulus fund for agriculture that they proposed to be added in the 2020 DA budget.

“With this, our budget will be over P100 billion next year, which is good enough to start stimulating our agriculture sector toward a growth pattern,” he said.

Cabatbat asked Dar what are the DA’s solutions in addressing the woes of the corn farmers due to low farm-gate prices.

Dar responded that they want to reinstate the warehouse receipt system in corn and intensify market linkages between farmers and feed millers in the country.

Cabatbat then asked Dar if these programs would materialize next year given the budget allotted to the DA, the agriculture chief responded that they wouldn’t.

Due to this, Cabatbat moved to raise the funds to be allocated for DA next year, citing the need to improve food supply amid previous threats made by trade partners to stop food exports to prioritize their needs during the pandemic.

During the hearing, Dar disclosed that the Philippines lags behind Southeast Asian neighbors in terms of the share of agriculture budget to national budget.

“We are tied with Malaysia at 1.6 percent. We are behind Vietnam at 6.3 percent, Thailand 3.6 percent, Indonesia 3.3 percent,” he said.

“We must draw lessons from Vietnam and Thailand if we are to sustain production and increase competitiveness despite the huge challenges we are facing. These countries experience high agriculture growth due to their coherent and integrated agricultural policies,” he added.

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

“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,” he said.

“This if we are to ensure that agriculture being the sleeping giant as it is can finally contribute  its full potential to the Philippine economy,” he added.

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