President-elect Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s decision to lead the Department of Agriculture (DA) underlines his determination to address effectively the critical problems that threaten the country’s food security. By not appointing a Cabinet Secretary who would serve as his alter ego in this most vital area of national concern, he is also signaling his preference to adopt a hands-on, take-charge style as Chief Executive.
In announcing this move, he said he would take on the portfolio “at least until we can reorganize the DA in a way that it can be ready for the years to come.”
“Rising food insecurity in 2022” is the headline of the World Bank’s June 22, 2022 Food Security Update. The report highlights the risks posed by continuing high food price inflation on people in low- and middle-income countries including the Philippines. The ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict has disrupted the global commodity supply chain, thereby triggering a continuing spiral in food prices. Food production and supply deficits have also been forecast by China, the world’s biggest grain producer. Another major vulnerability for the country is the unabated surge in fertilizer prices.
Production of rice, the Filipinos’ staple food, still lags behind demand and the country’s leading import sources, Vietnam and Thailand, are affected, too, by the ongoing crisis. President-elect Marcos has already signaled that he would seek the amendment of the Rice Tarrification Law to augment its provision for the P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) in order to boost production.
In announcing his decision to assume the agriculture portfolio, he sounded a note of urgency. “We have to plan in a more thorough fashion instead of just responding. I have asked DTI, NEDA, DOF and DBM to start to make economic forecasts on what we think we have to face for the rest of this year so we can prepare…There may be some emergency situation especially in regard to food supply,” he said.
With the Chief Executive at the helm of the DA, there would be a sharper focus on its budgetary requirements vis-à-vis those of other departments and agencies in the executive branch. Hence, it is expected that there will be a more fine-tuned alignment of priorities in the national budget. In the 2022 national budget, the DA and the National Irrigation Administration received a total of P103.5 billion, the eighth highest allocation.
The private sector has applauded the President-elect’s demonstration of political will in taking charge of a vital sector that accounts one-tenth of gross domestic product (GDP) and one-fourth of all jobs in the country. To forestall the knock-on effects of the looming global food crisis, there must be a concerted, multi-stakeholder response.
Among the measures proposed by private sector and non-government organizations are: a significant increase in the budget for agriculture; a more vigorous campaign against smuggling that is inimical to farmers and agribusinesses; and stronger bio-security measures in all ports to prevent the diseases such as African Swine Fever (ASF) and Avian Flu.
Finally, the incoming administration may wish to consider convening a summit at which both government policymakers and private sector-NGO advocates could reach a consensus on the priority programs that would be pursued to ensure the nation’s food security.