Farmers groups lament lower budget for DA

Farmers fear that the lower budget the agriculture sector will receive from the national expenditure program next year will only worsen hunger in the Philippines.

In a statement, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) called out the "paltry" allocation for agriculture, agrarian reform, and food production under the proposed 2022 National Expenditure Program.

"The total allocation for agriculture and food production under Duterte's last year in office is grossly insufficient. The 2022 proposed budget is a recipe for a more widespread and deeper hunger, rural poverty, and malnutrition," KMP Chairman Emeritus Rafael Mariano said.

According to the President's Budget Message, the total budget for the country's food production programs for next year is P152.1 billion, which is equivalent to 3 percent of the total P5.024 trillion proposed national budget. Of the P152.1 billion, the Department of Agriculture (DA) will receive P72 billion, or just 1.2 percent of it.

"That Duterte refuses to fund local food production is not surprising. This administration has consistently underfunded agriculture and other relevant departments and programs," Mariano, who previously served as the Duterte Administration's Agrarian Reform Secretary, said.

"This skewed fiscal policy contributes to why hunger, even before COVID, has aggravated under the current regime. Duterte will leave a legacy of worsening hunger," he added.

Based on the Food and Agriculture Organization's 2020 food security and nutrition global report, there were an estimated 14 million more hungry Filipinos in 2017-2019 compared to 2014 to 2016. This, while an SWS survey result released last July 2021 showed that the country's average hunger for 2020 reached an all-time high of 21 percent.

"Allocating more than half of the public funds for debt payments and transport infrastructure must be some sort of economic sabotage by and for international financing institutions and foreign interests, and collaborating local corporations and politicians -- all at the expense of the Filipino people," Mariano said.

Of the country's national budget, at least P1.3 trillion will be allocated for debt payments, while P1.2 trillion will go to infrastructure. Both will eclipse any other sector such as education (P803 billion), health (P252.4 billion), and food, debt payment, and infrastructure comprise 59 percent of the total proposed budget.

For his part, KMP Chairperson Danilo Ramos noted that the majority of government debt is incurred for transport infrastructure in the form of roads and bridges, and not even for health or education through new public hospitals or schools.

In August, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the proposed budget of P72 billion for DA next year is too small and may not be enough to boost the country’s agricultural production, which has been declining for the past three quarters.

“We are still hoping that the budget will increase in a big way,” Dar earlier told reporters. “We need a higher budget to increase our output”. As usual, for next year, the bulk of DA's budget will be used to boost production in rice, corn, high-value crops, poultry, livestock, and fisheries.

There is also a need for DA to allocate funds to ease the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lingering African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak to agriculture stakeholders, especially the small farmers and fishermen.