By Mario Casayuran
Before going on recess for the weekend, the Senate approved Friday the proposed P122 billion budget for the Department of Agriculture (DA).
Senator Cynthia A, Villar, chairwoman of the Senate agriculture and food committee, said the DA’s budget for the coming fiscal year is 3.34 percent of the proposed national budget amounting to P3.757 trillion.
But with a scheduled briefing Monday morning for senators on a request by the military for an extension of the declaration of martial law in Mindanao and a probable joint Senate and House of Representatives session on the martial law issue Wednesday, it is held likely that the proposed 2019 P3.757 trillion national budget might not be approved before both the two legislative chambers go on a month-long Christmas recess starting December 15.
The approval of the DA budget followed a sponsorship speech by Villar and a subsequent floor debate.
“We are hopeful, Mr. President (Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III) that the proposed 2019 budget of DA will realize our goal of lifting Filipino farmers and fisherfolks out of poverty. Particularly, rice and coconut farmers, who make up for seven million of the 12 million farmers in the country since under next year’s proposed budget, we have realigned P20 billion to provide for standby appropriations for the rice and coconut farmers,” Villar said in her sponsorship speech.
Of the total budget, P15.70 billion was earmarked for programs and P14.97 billion for projects.
The programs are as follows:
• National Rice Program, P7.41 billion
• National Livestock, P1.05 billion
• National Corn, P1.53 billion
• National High Value Crops, P1.48 billion
• National Organic Agriculture, P545.86 million
• Halal Food Industry Development, P44.63 million
• Other Regular Programs, P3.63 billion
Villar also highlighted the P10-billion Rice Fund, the most significant component of the rice tariffication bill which would be spent to improve competitiveness and productivity of farmers.
The Rice Fund will be allocated as follows:
• Fifty percent will go to the Philippine Center for Post Harvest Development and Modernization to provide farmers with rice farm machineries and equipment;
• Thirty percent will be released to the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PRRI) to be used for the development, propagation and promotion of inbred rice seeds to rice farmers and the organization of rice farmers into seed growers associations engaged in seed production and trade;
• Ten percent will be made available in the form of credit facility with minimal interest rates and with minimum collateral requirements to rice farmers and cooperatives to be managed by the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP); and
• Ten percent will be set aside to fund extension services by PhilMech, Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) for teaching skills on rice crop production, modern rice farming techniques, seed production, farm mechanization, and knowledge/ technology transfer through farm schools nationwide.
Likewise, P10 billion has also been earmarked for the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Fund to increase the income of coconut farmers and to support the developmental activities of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA). The P10 billion is divided as follows:
• P2 billion or 20 percent for infrastructure program,
• P2 billion or 20 percent for planting, replanting and establishment of hybrid coconut nurseries,
• P1.5 billion for 15 percent for shared facilities,
• P1 billion or 10 percent for intercropping,
• P1 billion or 10 percent for Research & Development (R&D), coconut disease prevention, control and eradication,
• P1 billion or 10 percent for credit through LBP and DBP.
• P500 million or 5 percent for fertilization,
• P500 million or 5 percent for new products and all derivatives of coconut oil and marketing.
• P500 million or 5 percent for training of farmers through TESDA.
“We are confident, Mr. President, that with the efficient utilization of the 2019 budget and implementation of programs and projects of the department, we are on track in removing the barriers that keep Filipino farmers and fisherfolks from being more competitive and profitable,” Villar said