Agriculture Secretary William Dar admitted that despite the government’s efforts to boost the farm sector and local food production over the past years, the Philippines has remained a “food-importing” country.
He said this as he addressed the nation about the ‘State of Philippine Agriculture’, which coincided with his first year anniversary celebration as the head of the Department of Agriculture (DA), the government agency tasked to look after the country’s local food production.
During his speech, Dar said importation should be the country’s last resort in securing the food supply for Filipino people, while promising to keep on working to improve the domestic food production.
This is the first time the agriculture chief formally addressed the accusation of several agriculture groups that the DA has a strong importation policy.
“From the dismal growth of the sector with its measly share of the national budget and being a food importing country, I know for a fact that much needs to be done,” Dar said.
“We are so used to relying on other countries [for our food] but because of the pandemic, we can see the global changes. We can’t keep doing the same thing. We should plant, plant, plant,” Dar said,
referring to DA’s P66-billion stimulus package that aims to boost the country’s domestic food production and increase our food self-sufficiency.
Since April, local poultry, hog raisers, and members of several agriculture groups have been appealing to the DA to temporarily suspend the importation of select agriculture commodities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
This, as the demand for their produce significantly went down due to lockdown restrictions, pulling down prices to the detriment of their respective industries.
Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) Executive Director Jayson Cainglet even said that in contrast with its ‘Plant, Plant, Plant’ program, which was a special mention during President Rodrigo Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address, all the DA does right now is “plan, plan, plan” and “import, import, import”.
For rice alone, the Philippines is still currently the world’s top rice importer. As of the third week of June, 1.3 million metric tons (MT) of imported rice already managed to enter the country.
Aside from addressing issues on importation, Dar said DA is also working to address other issues faced by the agriculture sector, including the still relatively higher price of rice as well as the persistence of COVID-19, African Swine Fever (ASF), and avian influenza or bird flu.
“It seems like heaven fell on us,” Dar said. “But we are not giving up”.
He then reiterated the objective of his agency’s ‘Plant, Plant, Plant’ program, which is yet to get in full its desired budget of P66 billion, while also asking the private sector to “invest, invest, invest” in the agriculture sector.
“We need that fund, which we have been asking for several months now, to increase our food sufficiency level during the pandemic,” Dar said.
Meanwhile, Dar also assured that there’s enough food in Metro Manila despite the decision of Duterte to intensify the lockdown restrictions in the country’s capital and other areas amid rising COVID-19 cases.
During DA’s celebration of Dar’s first year anniversary at the agency, Finance Secretary Carlos Domínguez III said the continuous flow of food from farms to consumers is one of the “brightest spots” in the government’s response to the pandemic.
Dominguez, who is now the head of the state economic team, said that despite some weaknesses in the logistic system and the rush of, some local government units (LGUs) to seal borders during the imposition of community quarantine last March in various parts of the country, the country did not experience a food crisis.
Dominguez previously served as agriculture secretary of former president Corazon Aquino.