Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 29) — Agriculture groups renewed calls for a higher budget for the Department of Agriculture (DA) to help develop the local sector amid a looming food crisis in the country.
The Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI) and the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) said the next government must prioritize a higher allocation for agriculture in the next administration. Both groups believe having more funds will help pave the way for the country to be self-sufficient in the coming years.
In the group’s general assembly on Wednesday, PCAFI president Danilo Fausto warned of a possible food shortage later in the year as a result of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
“Philippine agriculture as always, has been experiencing difficult times right now… The war in Ukraine is battering a food system that is already weakened by COVID-19, climate change and an energy shock,” he said.
Fausto said the conflict has kept many countries from exporting wheat, a crucial ingredient in many Filipino food staples like bread. He believes the halt of exports may affect the supply of other products, causing an increase in prices.
The PCAFI appealed to the incoming government to increase the budget for the DA to help the local industry achieve self-sufficiency. He also called for better bio surveillance, the strengthening of anti-smuggling laws, and encouraging the private sector to invest in agriculture technologies.
“Providing cheap food and fighting inflation through imports is a short term solution. Producing our own food requirements, although a much longer process, will be more sustainable for our people. We appeal for a level playing field from government,” he said.
SINAG shared the sentiment of the PCAFI on the sector’s needs, but it is not convinced there will be a food shortage. Its chairman Rosendo So says there is a silver lining for local farmers, adding that the global market shortage shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
“May positive sign doon sa pagtaas ng presyo ng other countries o paghinto ng pagtanim ng Ukraine. Dahil sa ngayon kasi ‘yung mga feed miller bumibili na rito sa ating magsasaka ng corn. So ibig sabihin we just continue to plant more corn para ma-substitute natin ‘yung wheat na kakulangan,” he explained.
[Translation: There’s a positive sign in the increase of prices of other countries and the halt of planting of wheat in Ukraine. Now, feed millers buy corn from our farmers. This means we just need to continue to plant more corn so we that can substitute for the wheat shortage.]
So said the local industry is not seeing any shortage, and that it is only being felt by those dependent on imports. He believes people would simply shift from eating bread to rice and corn, giving local farmers more opportunities to sell their products.
SINAG pointed to issues in food mobilization as a bigger issue than a looming shortage. So said the government should improve the movement of produce from the provinces to Metro Manila. He cited the oversupply of vegetables in Baguio and fish in Sorsogon.
“Ang tingin ko hindi eh basta ma-encourage ‘yung ating farmers. I think ang problema natin ‘yung connection ng chain… Dapat ayusin yung food chain, ‘yun ang nakikita natin na dapat ayusin para at least makarating sa mamimili ‘yung produkto na pagkain,” he explained.
[Translation: I think there wouldn’t be a shortage as long as we encourage farmers. I think our problem is in the connection of the food chain. The government should focus on fixing the food chain so food products would reach the consumers.]
In a media forum on Sunday, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the country has enough food supply for the next few months and will be sustained by local production and importation. Dar said they are implementing their plan to address the shortage, which includes ₱3 billion in subsidy for fertilizer.
Appeal to the next agri chief
President-elect Bongbong Marcos earlier said the country must ramp up local production and continue importation to address the imminent food crisis. He said the government must also help the agriculture sector.
While Marcos has yet to name the agriculture secretary for his administration, Dar said he is ready to serve if given another opportunity. He hopes the next government will implement the National Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization and Industrialization Plan, which aimed at growing the local sector.
“We need to strongly support the development of Philippine agriculture. We hope that political will is there and that priority is given and the significant budgetary support will be made available,” Dar said.
SINAG’s only wish is for the next DA chief to be open to dialogue with the local industry to get information on the ground, unlike the current administration.
Secretary Dar has been criticized for supposedly resorting to importation as a solution to address supply gaps whenever there is a shortage of agricultural products.