The Department of Agriculture (DA) has vowed to exhaust all efforts to keep the food prices affordable amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
This, as the country’s headline inflation decelerated to 2.4 percent in August 2020 from 2.7 percent in July amid stable food prices.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the stable food prices is a result of the “whole of nation approach” implemented by the DA, which is now leading the country’s Task Group on Food Security of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).
“Rest assured that we will further elevate our efforts to pursue our major interventions to ensure adequate, accessible and affordable food to all Filipino families during this COVID-19 pandemic and onto the new normal,” Dar said.
According to Dar, the DA will continue to forge partnerships with the local government units (LGUs), farmers’ cooperatives and associations (FCAs), the private sector, and major agri-fishery industry players.
Financial-wise, it’s already looking to be a stressful year for the DA, with the pandemic forcing the agency to already spend more than 70 percent of its annual budget for 2020. It will also re-focus its remaining money for more COVID-19 interventions. In addition, its request for additional funds has yet to be approved by Congress.
With four months remaining in the year, Dar said the DA had to refocus its remaining budget for 2020, of which 73 percent has already been utilized for key initiatives “to ensure that every Filipino family has enough food on their table” during this pandemic.
For this year, the DA was supposed to get only P64.7 billion, but because this is not enough and with the country being badly hit by the pandemic, the DA had sought a P66-billion stimulus package from the national government.
So far, the agency only received additional P8.5 billion for its rice resiliency project (RRP) and the P3 billion for the Financial Subsidy to Rice Farmers (FSRF).
And of the requested stimulus package, the DA may only get around P24 billion.
During a recent meeting of the economic development cluster (EDC) of President Rodrigo Duterte’s Cabinet, Dar presented the P17.5-billion refocused 2020 DA budget and the proposed P24-billion stimulus package for agriculture under the “Bayanihan to Recover as One Act” or “Bayanihan 2.”
Dar said the P24-billion budget will be allocated for agri-fishery productivity enhancement projects (P8.7 billion), income enhancement projects (P8.8 billion), and social protection and amelioration projects (P6.5 billion).
“In particular, the additional fund will partly bankroll the Duterte administration’s Plant Plant Plant Program to ensure food security and continuous productivity of the agri-fishery sector,” DA Undersecretary Cheryl Natividad Caballero said during the virtual meeting.
“And part of it will be allotted for direct cash subsidies, zero-interest loans, and other forms of assistance to qualified agri-fishery enterprises, farmers and fisherfolk under the farmers’ registry or RSBSA, and farmers’ cooperatives and associations (FCAs),” he added.
The Bayanihan 2 is now up for the final approval and signature of President Rodrigo Duterte.
The DA is asking the Congress for an annual budget of P280 billion for 2021, more than three times higher than its 2020 budget. Unfortunately, the agency is poised to get only P66.4 billion.
According to Magsasaka Representative Argel Joseph Cabatbat, this budget cut would not help the agency fulfill the promise of President Rodrigo Duterte during his last State of the Nation Address that agriculture sector will receive the appropriate budget to support the country’s food production especially during the pandemic.