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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Solon sees 40% budget increase of DA to help attain food security

The Marcos administration has proposed an almost 40-percent hike for the agriculture sector in its 2023 budget as it works to attain food security by increasing local food supply and lowering food prices.

During the budget hearing of the agency at the House of Representatives on Monday, Ako-Bicol Rep. Elizaldy Co, chairman of the committee on appropriations, said the P46.5 billion or 39.62-percent increase in the agriculture sector’s budget from 2022 to 2023 is unprecedented.

The agriculture sector includes the budget of the Department of Agriculture and its attached corporations and the Department of Agrarian Reform.

“The increase is from P117.29 billion in the 2022 GAA (General Appropriations Act) to P163.75 billion in 2023 National Expenditure Program (NEP),” Co said.

“This budget increase should ensure the country’s food security—meaning, as per President Marcos’ directive, local food supply should increase and, by the law of supply and demand, result in lower food prices,” he stressed.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who is concurrently DA Secretary, has emphasized in his first State of the Nation Address, that agriculture will be the main driver for economic growth and job creation.

“The President’s pronouncement, together with this unprecedented budget increase for agriculture, acknowledges the many challenges that the sector faces and affirms his support for the sector. This recognition from the highest official of the land should facilitate the recovery from the food crises that abound in the agriculture sector,” said Co.

The DA itself will get a budget of P102.15 billion in 2023—a 44-percent increase from its capital outlay this year of P71 billion, Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Ralph Recto earlier said.

“You can say that this is the beginning of the end of a funding drought,” he said, adding that the department will “finally reap a budget increase.”

Prices of sugar, salt, onion, and garlic have been on the rise due to supply chain issues as well as insufficient local production. The war in Ukraine has also caused a continuing spike in oil and wheat prices, creating an uptick in the cost of other goods and services.

Co said the increased agriculture budget should help the country overcome these difficulties.

“The road ahead is difficult but surmountable. As the nation embarks on a new chapter of socio-economic transformation, the agriculture sector must remain at the forefront of our collective effort to create more jobs and reduce poverty, and improve the lives of every Filipino, especially farmers and fishermen,” he said.

Co said the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Martin Romualdez, supports the President in building and strengthening the agricultural sector.

At least eight big agricultural agencies deemed as government corporations would also receive hefty increases in budgetary subsidy from the national government.

From P46.2 billion this year, subsidies to the National Food Authority, Sugar Regulatory Administration, National Irrigation Administration, Philippine Rice Research Institute, Philippine Fisheries Development Authority, National Tobacco Administration, Philippine Coconut Authority, and National Dairy Authority would go up to P62 billion – a 33-percent bump.

Of the eight, the NFA will get the biggest hike—a 71-percent jump from P7 billion to P12 billion—to allow it to raise its buffer stock capacity from nine days to 15 days.

Next is SRA with a P1-billion budget subsidy or up by 41 percent from this year’s P712.2 million.

For her part, House Assistant Minority Leader Arlene Brosas expressed concern that in next year’s proposed budget, the Cash Assistance for Farmers Law would be financed by an unprogrammed fund supporting infrastructure and social programs.

She said this could eventually leave the law unfunded.

“Why would you place the support for rice farmers under a provision for supporting infrastructure and other social projects?” Brosas said. “Our farmers could be left with a pittance.”

DA Budget Officer Thelma Tolentino said the allocation was still unprogrammed as it was contingent on excess government revenue at this point from excess tariff collection as provided under the Rice Tariffication Law.

“At this point, we are not yet certain of the amount of tariff collection. Once the budget from excess tariff collection is forwarded to DA, the cash assistance for rice farmers will be sourced from that line item,” Tolentino said.

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