Sustain agri growth
As the country struggles to rise from the devastation caused by the recent typhoons, special attention must be given to the agriculture sector, which traditionally suffers the most from natural calamities. The latest official estimates placed the amount of damage to the sector at a staggering P12.3 billion. This figure as of last week covers the destruction caused by typhoons “Quinta,” “Rolly,” and “Ulysses” in the food-producing regions of Cagayan Valley, Bicol, Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon) and Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan).
As the recovery process begins, there appears to be one worthwhile project the Department of Agriculture (DA) is undertaking with local government units (LGUs) to supply the metropolis with basic food items and at the same time help farmers recover their livelihood. It will start with the municipality of San Mateo in Rizal, where about 110 hectares of farm lands will be developed to produce basic food items for neighboring Metro Manila. Called the “Food Basket for Metro Manila Project,” the program is receiving an initial budget of P2.5 million to jump-start the cultivation of rice, fruits, and vegetables in the typhoon-wracked province. The government will supply seeds, implements, equipment, and technical and marketing assistance to farmers, in the process providing a source of income especially to those who lost their livelihood due to the recent typhoons.
The government said it hopes to start the project as soon as possible so that the first harvest can be made in time for the Christmas season. This is possible by planting short-gestation crops, or plants that can be harvested in one to two months. If done right, the project augurs well for the supply of basic food items during the holidays when demand surges. Eventually, the program will be expanded to other cities and municipalities in Rizal, and then to other provinces in the Calabarzon region.
But before that, what is important now is for the government to improve the implementation of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act, since the money for the agricultural project will come from the DA’s allocation under the Bayanihan 2 law. Only last month, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon criticized as “deplorable and inexcusable” the failure of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to immediately release crucial funds for the recovery of both the agriculture and tourism sectors under the Bayanihan 2 law, with only two months left in the validity of the budget. The DBM had yet to release P24 billion earmarked for the DA and P10 billion for the Department of Tourism, and the reason given was that the bulk of the funds were just awaiting review by Malacañang while the rest lacked documentation.
Government agencies should now expedite the submission of special budget requests in order to access the Bayanihan 2 funding. Most of the funds allocated under Bayanihan 2 are available only until the adjournment of Congress on Dec. 19.
The agriculture sector, against all odds, has been one bright spot lately in an economy that has been severely battered by the COVID-19 lockdowns. Agriculture was able to maintain its growth in the third quarter at a relatively faster pace of 0.7 percent from 0.5 percent the previous quarter, again driven by the robust performance of the crops and fisheries subsectors. While this was a far cry from the industry’s performance in the same period last year of 2.9 percent, it was still a reason to be happy for a country reeling from the economic hardships caused by the pandemic (and the government’s response to it). In fact, only agriculture was able to record a positive performance last quarter, while the rest of the economy languished in a recession.
Clearly, the government should exert all efforts to help the sector sustain this momentum. It needs to provide the necessary inputs, market linkages, and other financial and nonmonetary support to uplift the economic condition of farmers. The sector needs a bigger budget to finance government intervention measures aimed not only at increasing areas planted to crops, but also at raising farm productivity. At the end of the day, national food security is a critical, make-or-break component to any economic recovery program being crafted for the post-pandemic era.
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