Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. on Wednesday lamented the administration’s neglect of the agriculture sector, which not only made life harder for farmers but also meant disruptions in food supply and rising prices.
During an open forum with students of the Universidad de Manila, Marcos tagged agriculture as one of the sectors that the next administration should focus on.
On the same day, the National Food Authority announced that the Philippines will import an additional 250,000 metric tons of rice to beef up the country’s stocks in preparation for the drought brought about by El Nino, which is predicted to last until May 2016.
“Every year, we hear bold claims from the government that we will finally achieve rice self-sufficiency. Barely a month later, we will hear reports that we will again be importing rice again, in even greater amounts compared to the previous importations,” Marcos noted.
The reason behind the Philippines' food security woes, according to Marcos, is simply the lack of a sound agricultural policy.
For example, Marcos noted the “frightening statistics” he uncovered during Senate hearings of his Committee on Public Works that irrigated areas today has shrunk compared to that in 1986.
“That means since 1986 we have not added anything to our existing irrigation system. Worse, the damaged areas were not repaired and rehabilitated when we all know that the most important factor for farmers to improve their production is sufficient water for irrigation,” he stressed.
Likewise, Marcos said the government has abandoned its program of providing crucial support to farmers such as credit facilities, research and development and market information.
In addition to the El Nino phenomenon, Marcos said the administration has done very little in preparing the agricultural sector for the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nation) integration, which would lift tariffs among member nations.
“This means we now have to compete with our ASEAN neighbors in the regional market and agriculture is one of the biggest sectors in that regional market. Sadly, our cost of production is high and our volume of production is low compared to our neighboring countries,” Marcos pointed out.
In terms of rice alone, Marcos said it is a shame that from being a net exporter of rice at one time, the Philippines has now became the biggest rice importer in the world.
“I don’t think that’s because Filipinos are lazy, or that Filipinos don’t know how to grow rice,” Marcos said, noting that the many of the best agriculturists in neighboring countries were trained at the University of the Philippines in Los Banos, Laguna.
Marcos said it is imperative for the next administration to craft and implement good policy for the agriculture sector since it serves as the foundation of the economy.
Likewise, he said such a policy is crucial in ensuring food security amid uncertainties.
“If a country cannot feed itself then the country is in a precarious situation,” Marcos stressed.
Apart from focusing on the agriculture sector, Marcos said he would prioritize infrastructure and the education sector if were elected to higher office in next year’s election.