An infrastructure program that leaves out the agriculture sector and its millions of farmers will not succeed. Farmers, fishermen and livestock growers also need roads and pockets of infrastructure to deliver their produce to the market.
The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura, thus, is urging the government to increase the budget of the Department of Agriculture and invest more on the country’s agriculture sector.
SINAG executive director Jayson Cainglet said while the government’s Build, Build, Build program focuses on infrastructure, transportation and urban development, support for the agriculture sector remains low.
“Unfortunately, the agriculture sector is still not a priority. DA’s budget is still low,” said Cainglet.
The DA earlier proposed for P218-billion budget for next year, and only P60.6 billion was approved.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol has asked for an additional P20 billion for 2018 to fund the construction of more farm-to-market roads (FMR) in the country.
“We have a backlog of about 13,000 kilometers for the FMR. The 2018 FMR budget is only about P6 billion and that’s not enough because that will only equate to 600 kilometers of FMR at average cost of P10 million per kilometer,” said Piñol.
“If we have a backlog of 13,000 km, and with this kind of budgeting, by the end of 2022, we will only be able to finish about 3,000 kilometers. There will still be 10,000 km left and we will not be able to accomplish what the President want us to do which is to complete the FMR program,” Piñol said.
“I am asking for no less than P20 billion for FMR and they promised that since the budget has already been submitted by the President, the best they can do is to get budget from non-essential programs,” added Pinol.
The agriculture official is also pushing for the rationalization of the Farm-to-Market Road program in a bid to create a single network of roads in the country.
Piñol asked Senator Loren Legarda and the Department of Budget and Management to rationalize the FMR program.
“Right now, DA is not the only one which is implementing the program. PCA (Philippine Coconut Authority) has its own FMR program, DAR (Department of Agrarian Reform) and DILG (Department of Interior and Local Government) also run their own FMR program. The National Irrigation Administration also has the irrigation road program and SRA (Sugar Regulatory Administration) has sugar road program. I asked if it’s okay to rationalize so we can have one network which is well coordinated for the implementation of the program,” he said.
Piñol said a well-coordinated network would help the government to save more money.
“If a lot of (agencies) implement the rural road program, it is possible that the network of rural roads over the country will not be completed. The (rationalization) will help the government to save more money and will also help us in rational planning,” said Piñol.
Megaprojects not needed
Cainglet said the agriculture sector does not need mega projects.
“What the sector needs are farm inputs, post harvest or post production facilities, subsidized quality seeds, fertilizers, pesticides for crops, quality corn and other feed substitutes for livestock, irrigation services, warehousing and silos, cold storage facilities, dressing plants and slaughterhouse,” said Cainglet.
He noted that while FMRs could help in the transportation of agricultural products, these often led to the conversion of agricultural land into real estate and other land use.
“We don’t need FMRs unless areas are too far flung. If there are FMRs, real estate developers and tourism come in,” said Cainglet.
Piñol said the DA was doing its best to improve the sector and help the farmers and fishermen.
He cited the 10-year fisheries road map that would identify the needs and priorities of the fishery sector.
He said the road map would pinpoint the problems and challenges in the fisheries industry and the required government interventions.
“While the Philippines ranks first among the countries of the world with the longest coastal lines at 39,284 kilometers, the country continues to import fisheries and aquatic products to fill the needs of the local market,” Piñol said.
He said among the biggest problems confronting the fisheries and aqua industries were the depleted freshwater fish sources because of overfishing and destructive fishing practices.
Piñol said the road map would also identify the rich fishing grounds of the country and establish post-harvest facilities, like ice plants and cold storage.
The agriculture chief is also pushing for the creation of a task force that will inspect all rice warehouses in the country.
He said the body would be composed of members from the Department of Agriculture, National Food Authority, Department of Trade and Industry, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Philippine Statistics Authority, National Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Customs and the Philippine National Police.
Piñol said that in order to establish a credible stock position, the government should factor in the smuggled rice which enters the country,
“That’s why we need to inspect the warehouses, all warehouses in the country because that’s the only way,” he said.
Piñol said the task force aimed to prove that there is enough rice supply in the Philippines.
The group must establish the actual rice stock situation so that the government could come up with the correct statistics as the basis of a sound agricultural planning, especially when it comes to the country’s rice production program.
“Hopefully, the Task Force will be able to give us an accurate baseline information and a very clear picture of the rice industry in the country,” Piñol said.
The National Irrigation Administration, meanwhile, vowed to fulfill President Duterte’s marching order for a free irrigation service fee.
NIA said more and more irrigators’ associations were signing up with the new Irrigation Management Transfer contract, which outlines core guidelines in the free irrigation policy.
The agency as stipulated in the contract will no longer collect ISF current accounts from the farmers.
“NIA is no longer collecting fees for irrigation as ordered by the President,” said NIA spokesperson Pilipina Bermudez.
Bermudez, however, clarified the ISF back accounts were still subject for collection in the absence of a final ruling on the condonation of the unpaid irrigation service fee.
COMMENT DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted on this Web site are not in any way endorsed by Manila Standard. Comments are views by manilastandard.net readers who exercise their right to free expression and they do not necessarily represent or reflect the position or viewpoint of manilastandard.net. While reserving this publication’s right to delete comments that are deemed offensive, indecent or inconsistent with Manila Standard editorial standards, Manila Standard may not be held liable for any false information posted by readers in this comments section.