When William Dar took over as secretary of the Department of Agriculture in August, 2019, he proposed a new strategy for agriculture built around eight programs – modernization of agriculture, industrialization of agriculture, promotion of exports, farm consolidation, roadmap development, infrastructure development, higher budget and investments in agriculture, and legislative support.
The first two were the key parts of the program — modernization and industrialization — to be attained through increased infrastructure, increased exports, and farm consolidation. But after all the planning, the ultimate need was funding. And this, over the years, has been the biggest problem of the Department of Agriculture.
In the National Budget for 2020, education, as mandated by the Constitution, was given the biggest amount – ₱692.6 billion for the Department of Education, state universities and colleges, the Commission on Higher Education, and the Technical Skills and Development Authority.
The next highest amounts were ₱581,7 billion for the Department of Public Works and Highways, ₱241.6 billion for the Department of the Interior and Local Government, ₱200.5 billion for the Department of Social Welfare and Development, ₱192.1 billion for the Department of National Defense, ₱175.9 billion for the Department of Health, and ₱100.6. billion for the Department of Health.
The Department of Agriculture had ₱64.7 billion, later raised to ₱79.9 billion.
For next year, 2021, the Department of Agriculture asked for a budget of ₱284.4 billion, but the DA budget proposed in Malacañang’s National Expenditure Program is only ₱66.4 billion. It doesn’t look like Secretary Dar’s hopes and ambitions for agriculture in the country are going to be realized in 2021.
Last Friday, Sen. Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, said her committee is pushing for a budget of ₱15.5 billion for a National Rice Program, and ₱10 billion for a Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund. Specific amounts will be used for the distribution of hybrid seeds, inbred seeds, fertilizers, training, research and development, equipment, irrigation, and other programs specifically for rice production.
This special allocation for the RCEF, she said, is mandated by the Rice Tariffication Act which replaced the rice quota system of rice importation with tariffs in January, 2019. This law, we might recall, helped stop the zooming inflation that hit 6.7 percent in September, 2018.
We welcome these funds for agriculture, on top of the regular budget for the department. One day, we hope, we will be able — with these special funds — to produce more rice with better certified seeds, more and better irrigation, modern farm methods and equipment, better trained farm workers, and an organized system of production and exports – in general, the modernization of Philippine agriculture.