By Jasper Y. Arcalas, June 25 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to Business Mirror

IF  you are given the chance to shoot for the moon, would you take it? The Department of Agriculture (DA) just did.

The agriculture department is seeking a fivefold increase in its funding next year to about P333 billion as it aims to improve farmers’ productivity and competitiveness.

But industry stakeholders are way off the lack of social protection in the record-high budget pitch by the DA.

Nonetheless, the P333-billion 2020 budget proposal has been endorsed by the National Agriculture and Fisheries Council (NAFC) for submission to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

The DA is proposing a Tier 1 budget of P58 billion, while its Tier 2 funding proposal is pegged at P275 billion, according to government sources.

The NAFC Council is comprised of representatives of the different government agencies, private entities, civil society organizations (CSOs), nongovernment organizations (NGOs), people’s organizations and farmers and fisherfolks groups.

Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF) Committee on Food Staples Chairman Raul Q. Montemayor said the increase in DA’s budget was observed across all the department’s projects, commodity programs and attached agencies.

The over 400-percent increase in DA’s proposed budget was due to the pronouncement of President Duterte that it would increase the department’s funding by tenfold next year, Montemayor added.

“They took literally what the President said and asked for the moon,” he told the BusinessMirror in an interview.

Montemayor was present during the NAFC Council meeting on June 17 when it endorsed DA’s 2020 budget.

For 2019 the DA has been allocated with a P47.293 billion funding while the bugdet for its attached government-owned and -controlled corporations totaled to P20.958 billion.

In March, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said they would ask for a tenfold increase in their budget to ensure the country’s food security following the commitment of Duterte.

Rising rice fund

For rice programs alone, the DA has proposed a Tier 2 budget of P66 billion on top of the usual P7-billion budget under the Tier 1 and, at least, P10 billion allocation from the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), Montemayor said.

Montemayor explained that the DA proposed such huge funding to mitigate the adverse effects of the rice trade liberalization (RTL) law, particularly the steep decline in farm-gate palay prices.

Based on the DA’s analyses, farmers’ net income per hectare this year is projected to decline to P23,828 from P31,734 last year due to higher cheaper imports, PCAF Climate Change Committee Vice Chairman Hazel A. Tanchuling told the BusinessMirror.

The increased funding in rice programs is aimed to improve farmers’ yield to 4.57 metric tons (MT) per hectare, with a reduced production cost of P10.73 per kilogram next year, Tanchuling added.

With this, the farmers’ net income per hectare would reach P28,703, which is relatively lower than 2018 net income but higher than the projected income this year.

Social protection

Montemayor disclosed that without the increase in funding, farmers’ productivity would remain unchanged from last year’s figures and they could lose much more income than what DA is projecting today.

“We asked them what is the game plan since it is definite that the farmers’ income would really decline,” he said.

“The P66 billion is obviously hard to get and given their projection that with only the Tier 1 and RCEF budget, there would be no change in yield and cost of production,” he added.

Tanchuling echoed the sentiments of Montemayor and added that they are asking the DA what would be the government’s social protection programs for rice-based enterprises that would be displaced by the RTL law.

“It turned out they did not factor in the social protection in the P333 billion which is mainly aimed at productivity and competitiveness.” she said.

“What could be the possible programs or support in lieu of the loss of income? The farmers’ net income are estimated to decline continuously, so how would the government solve that loss in income?” she added.

The DA’s 2020 proposed budget would still be reviewed by the DBM, which stakeholders expect to be cut as it is beyond what the government could afford.

For 2020, the DBM is proposing a national budget of P4.1 trillion, 9.1 percent than the 2019 General Appropriations Act of P3.7 trillion.