"We have to muster the political will to make the agricultural industry competitive."
The increasing population in the country comes with the growing demand for food and other agricultural products. For years, our agricultural sector has been unable to fully address problems in production. This is ironic considering that the Philippines is an agricultural country. Ideally, we should be able to supply our own needs, but in order to meet consumption demand, we import basic commodities such as rice, vegetables and fish. Because these imported products are cheaper, the income of our local farmers and fishermen is gravely affected.
The growth of our agricultural performance is stunted, compared to our neighboring countries. We are undeniably far behind in terms of applying modern technologies and equipment, advanced know-how, improved facilities that would otherwise bring our industry up to speed with other SEA countries. At present, the government provides subsidies to many sectors, but we have to admit that this is not enough to revitalize our ailing industry.
We need increased governmental support and budget augmentation for the Department of Agriculture and its attached agencies. As early as March this year, the President, through then-Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, expressed his intent to increase the budget of the DA tenfold to provide assistance to farmers and fishermen and to boost food production. Despite the increase of 14.4 percent from the 2019 budget, it is deemed that the proposed 2020 budget amounting to P54.43 billion will not suffice to account for these critical situations.
I also hope that the reported irregularities in the implementation of the Department’s programs based on the 2018 report of the Commission on Audit will be addressed. Per the COA report, these irregularities range from the delayed release of financial assistance, ineligibility of winning bidder in BFAR IMEMS program, and incomplete stock reports and inefficient procurement for the rice buffer stock. To ensure efficiency, the Department must strictly adhere to the reporting requirements of COA. This will also serve as basis in checking the disbursement of funds to the beneficiaries of the programs and effective utilization of the budget.
It is high time we took a hard look at our agricultural industry, and muster the political will to make it competitive. We have been too late on this, much to the detriment of our local farmers and fishermen. The increased budgetary allocation will provide leeway for the government to fully implement its programs and provide necessary equipment and support to our local farmers and fishermen.