The Manila Times : BBM to boost agri for food-secure PH

By Catherine S. Valente | The Manila Times

PRESIDENT-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. assured the public that giving agriculture a boost is one of the top priorities of his incoming administration as he envisions a food-secure and resilient Philippines in the coming years.

Marcos, who has not yet named his nominee for agriculture chief, said that stabilizing the price of food, particularly by helping farmers and fisherfolks, will be crucial in the country's growth.

"Naniniwala ako na makakaya nating mas mapalago pa at mapabuti ang kalagayan ng agrikultura sa ating bansa. Ang masaganang produksyon at murang pagkain ang isa sa mga hangad naming maisakatuparan sa mga susunod na taon (I am confident that we can really boost and improve the agriculture sector in our country. Producing enough food and bringing down its price is one of our aspirations that we want to be accomplished in the coming years)," Marcos said in a statement posted on his Facebook page.

"On agriculture, we have to find long-term solutions. I know I keep saying the phrase but that really is where we are headed: the value chain of agriculture. From the very beginning of it, to production, to processing, to mechanization, to credit, all the way to retail," he added.

Marcos, who will assume the presidency on June 30, has said that he has been in talks with rice traders to hold the current prices, saying that he seeks to slash them to as low as P20 per kilo.

"That [P20 per kilo of rice] is the aspiration. Bubuin natin iyong value chain (We will fix the value chain)," Marcos had said in his first news conference as president-elect.

"Kausap ko na iyong ibang trader na baka pwede natin i-hold ng ilang buwan iyong presyo (I have talked to traders and asked them to freeze prices). I think we will be able to do it. That is the first step," he added.

The incoming president, however, said fixing the value chain is the long term solution.

He also said that the aging population of farmers must be addressed.

"Our farmers are aged, 56, 57. That is not a good number. That is too high a number," Marcos said. "How do we change that? We must employ new technologies. It has to be industrial farming."

His incoming Press secretary Rose Beatrix Cruz-Angeles had said that Marcos is taking his time in selecting the next head of the Department of Agriculture.

"One of the priority agenda of the president-elect is agriculture and therefore the selection has to be done carefully," Cruz-Angeles said in a previous interview.

After the announcement of Marcos' win in the elections in early June, Cruz-Angeles said she has received a lot of applications for the position.

"So to be fair, we have to go through all [of the applications], which is prolonging the selection [process]," she added.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar, who expressed willingness to lead the department again, said the incoming Marcos administration will inherit an agriculture sector that is "gasping for breath."

"It's gasping for breath and we need sizable budgetary support to make it possible to really now unlock the potential of Philippine agriculture. Of course, I would've been much happier if agriculture would have been properly budgeted," Dar said during an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.

The Agriculture department has proposed a budget of P270 billion for 2023, according to Dar.

He said the fisheries sector needs a budget of P12 billion, triple its current budget of P4 billion.

"That's the level of budget we need in agriculture. Otherwise, talagang (really) we have been under budgeted, neglected all these 30 years. In spite of that, we have [a] new record in rice production. Everything we've budgeted for we're using that properly," Dar said.

"We're having strides in most areas, we can do much more if we're given the right budgeted support," he added.