A bigger budget for agriculture

Published October 28, 2020, 9:11 PM

by Manila Bulletin

Coconut  farmers are now the poorest  people in the agricultural sector,  coconut farmer Danny Carranza,  a  member  of the Kilusan para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo  at Katarungang  Panlipunan, said early his week. 

He said 95 percent of the 3.5 million hectares of coconut farms in the Philippines are dedicated to the production of copra, the raw material  for  coconut  oil manufacturing. But  with  the  collapse  of prices in the world  market in the last  two years, copra prices have plunged. “We are much poorer now than we were back in 1990,”  he said. 

Coconut farmers owning one  hectare  of coconut trees or less  will be receiving P5,000 in assistance through the Department   of Agriculture’s P24-billion stimulus package from  Bayanihan 2.  They are in the same category as the low-income workers in Metro  Manila  who  lost their livelihood when the COVID-19  pandemic struck in March. 

The crisis in the coconut industry actually started  in the1990s when world oil prices fell  and Filipino farmers  ailed to adjust  through diversification and intercropping, Carranza said. This was followed by several  typhoons  which destroyed  coconut  trees. Then came  the  lockdowns  due to COVID-19which isolated and immobilized  farmers in far-flung areas.

Most reports on Philippine agriculture have lately   e rice industry, because  rice happens to be our people’s staple food  and any  problem  in the country’s rice supply sends market prices  up as in 2016. 

That  price  crisis in 2016 drew great public attention  to  the national budget  for  agriculture  which has long been among  the smallest  among the various sectors of the national budget.  In  recent  weeks, budget reports have focused mostly on public works  projects , with some  congressmen  allegedly  getting huge funds  for their districts. 

In 2020. the Department  of  Agriculture  had a budget  of only P65 billion, which explained why rice  farmers did not have the support they needed  by way of  irrigation,  high-yielding   rice   varieties, storage and marketing assistance.  This year, the department  asked for a budget  of P280 billion for 2021,  but is getting  less than P67 billion.

We  can  expect  no  new irrigation services,  not  much planting assistance or marketing facilities to ensure we have enough rice  for our people this year and in 2021. And  the coconut industry will have to carry on as before – unless  the present meager budget  for the Department  of Agriculture  is somehow  boosted  in the Senate so that in the National Appropriation Bill that  is signed by President Duterte in December,  Philippine  agriculture gets the attention it deserves.