Budget for agriculture to imperil Aquino’s rice self-sufficiency targets – farmers’ group

“As long as the Aquino government continues with the same policies that have perpetuated the backward, labor-intensive and low-yielding domestic agriculture, rice-self sufficiency will not be realized.” Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – The proposed 2012 budget for the Department of Agriculture (DA) runs counter to the Aquino government’s target of achieving rice self-sufficiency by 2013, a farmer representative said.

According to a study by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), of the P61.734 billion ($1.45b illion) budget for DA next year, only P1.223 billion ($28.82 million) is allocated for Capital Outlay (CO). This translates to only P452.96 ($10.67) each for the country’s 2.7 million rice farmers.

Aquino government targets palay production of 21.11 million tons by end of 2013 and 22. 49 million tons of play by end of 2016. Based on the Food Staples Self-Sufficiency Roadmap for 2011-2016, the DA is tasked to implement the government’s rice sufficiency program throughd evelopment and maintenance of irrigation systems, increasing farmers access to high quality seeds, improvement of research and technologies, farm mechanization and reduction of post-harvest losses.

“How can we achieve rice self-sufficiency in the next two years if the government allocated a very meager P452 for each of the country’s 2.7 million rice farmers” Anakpawis Rep. Rafel Mariano said. “This will not change the existing ‘carabao farming’ method prevalent in the countryside,” he added, noting that less than one percent of Filipino rice farmers use farm machines such as tractors and power tillers.

KMP noted that only P6.181 billion ($160.46 million) was appropriated for the national rice program. But of the amount, only P4.533 billion will go to 14 regional offices of the DA because the P1.647 is allocated for the Office of the Secretary, the Agricultural Training Institute, Bureau of Agricultural Statistics, Bureau of Soil and Water Management and the Bureau of Plant Industry.

The KMP said the P4.533 billion ($106.74 million) will also be divided: P3.31 billion ($77.99 million) for Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) and P1.223 billion ($28.98 million)for Capital Outlay (CO).

“It is the height of callousness for the Aquino administration to give crumbs to rice farmers in the face of skyrocketing prices of oil, irrigation fees, and other farm inputs,” Danilo Ramos, KMP secretary general, said.

Mariano, KMP chairman and who hails from Nueva Ecija, cited as example the budget for Central Luzon farmers. He said Central Luzon, considered as the country’s rice granary with an estimated 313,761 hectares of rice lands, as of second semester of 2010, will get an allocation of P679.61 million ($16.01 million), of which P511.6 million is for MOOE and P168.02 million ($12.05) for CO. Of such CO, Mariano said the budget per hectare stands at only P535.49 ($12.62)

Mariano said rice farmers and crop producers in the countryside do not stand to benefit from the DA budget.

For Ramos, the budget for agriculture “demonstrates the Aquino government’s abandonment of its responsibility to subsidize rice farmers across the country.”

In a recent report, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala attributed the jump in palay production in the first half of the year to the expansion of irrigated lands. KMP, however, raised doubts on the P25.7 billion ($605.57 million) allocation for irrigation projects because, according to the group, farmers are paying for the irrigation fees.

���Even the so-called budget for irrigation cannot be claimed as government support because we are the ones paying for the high cost of irrigation fees,” Ramos said noting that “at the minimum, each farmer is paying three cavans of palay per hectare during the dry season and two cavans per hectare during the main cropping.”

Ramos also said the yearly multi-billion budget for irrigation is used “as political pork barrel and a source of corruption.”

“Every year, the government is allocating lump sum funds for unfinished irrigation facilities and so-called repair and rehabilitation,” the KMP leader said.

“Major projects of the Agriculture department such as irrigation development, and construction of farm-to-market roads are very prone to corruption,” Mariano said.

Mariano revealed there is some P16.846 billion ($397.04 million) unexplained, lump-sum allocation in the 2012 DA budget.?

The farmer-lawmaker said “low budgetary support to farmers coupled with wastage of DA budget to corruption will imperil the government’s self-targeted rice sufficiency targets. ?

“Our rice industry remains underdeveloped despite attempts by previous and present governments to modernize it. Our average productivity per hectare is among the lowest in Southeast Asia, farm-to-market roads are poorly developed, distribution and marketing of palay are in the hands of private traders that make up the local ‘rice-cartel’, production cost is high and farmers have low income,” Mariano said.

Mariano said the government needs to allocate direct subsidy for rice farmers, sustained subsidy for production inputs, strengthening of palay procurement capability of the National Food Authority and upgrading the distribution and marketing of rice and provision for extension services.

“As long as the Aquino government continues with the same policies that have perpetuated the backward, labor-intensive and low-yielding domestic agriculture, rice-self sufficiency will not be realized,” Mariano concluded. ()

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