A bigger role in nat’l  economy

Published September 15, 2020, 4:55 PM

by Manila Bulletin

The agricultural  sector  in the country  contributes around 10 percent  of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP)  but its share of funds in the national budget  in the last 10 years has been a measly  3 to 5 percent, Secretary  of Agriculture William Dar said in  recent  virtual hearings of the House of Representatives   Committee on Agriculture and Food.

With this observation,  he proposed a budget of P284.4 billion for 2021, a nearly 256 percent  increase from the 2020 budget  of P79.9 billion – P55.9 billion for the rice sub-sector,  P6.6 billion for corn, P13.7 billion for high-value crops,  P11.2 billion for livestock,  P22.5 billion for fisheries,  P960 million for organic agriculture, and P3 billion for other support programs.

That was in July,  four months into the lockdowns  imposed all over the country as the COVID-19 swept through the country and  throughout the  entire world.  In the ensuing  emergency, the government  had to  spend huge amounts   to keep the economy going, including aid  for poor people who had lost their livelihood and income.

Congress  enacted  a  stimulus  law, the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act,  with  a budget of P140 billion. The Department of Agriculture asked for  P66 billion with which it hoped  to increase food  production, establish  food markets,  and  set up  cash-for-work programs in the agricultural sector, but was given only  P17 billion.

Congress is now preparing  the national budget for 2021 and many congressmen, knowing that agriculture could be  a  major factor in the country’s economic recovery,  are pushing for a bigger funding for the DA as well as for the Department  of Agrarian Reform  (DAR).

Deputy Speaker and  Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte, long with Quezon Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga,  chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and  Ang  Magsasaka  partylist Rep. Argel Cabatbat  cited the need  to finance the programs of both the DA and  DAR  to help the country recover  from the impact of the pandemic.

“If there is one  thing  that the ongoing global health crisis has taught  us, it 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 around the globe,”  Villafuerte said.

Before the pandemic, Secretary  Dar  had merely sought a greater  role for agriculture in the national economy. The world  situation  has now  drastically changed, with many countries  cutting down on trade and other relations with other countries for fear of  new COVID-19 infestations along with great economic losses.

As Congressman Villafuerte pointed out,  we may have to  depend  heavily  on our own resources  in the coming months and years, particularly in food for our people.  Our leaders must ensure that our agricultural sector will be able to assume this role, starting with better funding in the national budget.