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  • Writer's pictureMelo Acuna

Long-term, consistent agriculture program needed to attain food security

Hopes for farmers and agriculture remain provided appropriate measures are implemented

MANILA – As the predominantly Catholic country celebrates the Feast of San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of Filipino farmers tomorrow, COVID-19 restricted the traditional pahiyasan in the Tagalog provinces. The highlight of the celebration is the customary procession of San Isidro’s image along narrow streets adorned with farm produce.

As the political season nears the mantra “Food on every table…” will once again be heard from different personas hoping to get elected to high government positions. It has been a sure-fire approach to woo voters who come from the impoverished provinces were 11.1 million farmers deal with lack of irrigation facilities, aggravated by climate change and unpredictable weather, low farmgate prices, lack of access to credit and at times, African Swine Fever and restlessness in the villages.

Against all these headwinds, Agriculture Secretary William Dollente Dar remains optimistic the Agriculture sector would recover from a dip of -1.2 percent in the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing sector. This comes at a time when the country’s GDP plunged by -4.2 percent during the first three months of the year. A decline in the Household Final Consumption Expenditure (HFCE) of -4.8 percent was also reported by the Philippine Statistics Authority.

Quite recently, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Proclamation No. 1143 which declared a state of emergency nationwide to contain the dreaded African Swine Fever, about two years after it was first reported.

Secretary Dar said the national government increased the Minimum Access Volume from 54,000 to 254,210 MT to address the expected shortage and keep prices to the consumers’ advantage. He vowed of stricter measures to prevent ASF’s onslaught.

Farmers have long complained of unreasonable farmgate prices of their produce to which President Duterte’s alter ego on agriculture matters said farmers are given the raw deal by integrators and wholesalers because farmers still lack access to credit.

“Farmers need to organize themselves in cooperatives so they could find markets for their farm produce,” he said.

Stakeholders say the government maintains its bias in favor of consumers while neglecting the plight of impoverished food producers. What is needed is for the government to balance its programs for consumers and producers. Some of the stakeholders believe there is lack of long-term programs to guarantee food security and affordability.

The Department of Agriculture’s appropriation is almost insignificant considering the Department’s mission/vision statements. The same stakeholders believe its programs and projects are limited to the six-year term of whoever sits at the Presidential Palace.

Mr. Danilo V. Fausto, president of the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food, Inc., said road maps and strategic plans are still to be considered under the different banner programs of the Department of Agriculture.

The government need to focus on food security by extending fair and balanced national budget in accordance with the sector’s contribution to the economy’s growth. Some stakeholders are at a loss why the National irrigation Administration remains at the control of the Office of the President when the Department of Agriculture can provide better management and control for high-value crops.

Meanwhile, the Federation of Free Farmers, represented by former Agriculture Secretary Leonardo Montemayor, said farmers, food processors, even traders and consumers continue to encounter problems related to food security.

Atty. Montemayor said it is never too late to address the prevailing food insecurity atmosphere, formulation of a unified understanding of food security as well as a closer look to the food security framework as well as immediate steps to attain food security.

“People are hungry characterized by lack of access to food by poor Filipinos are seen in the community pantries,” he said. Citing the survey made by Social Weather Stations which revealed hunger during Q4 of 2020, doubled to 21.1% from 9.3% in 2019.

He explained actual numbers revealed some four million households went hungry, twice the number in 2019. He said the government’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), revealed 6 in 10 households experienced hunger in 2020.

From the feedback generated from stakeholders, a long-term, consistent plan for Agriculture should be crafted, regardless of who sits at the Office of the President. Lawmakers who possess the power of the purse should increase its appropriation to guarantee appropriate technology, credit and research and development in favor of Agriculture. Climate-change resilient farm crops need to be introduced soonest. (Melo M. Acuña)

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