Farmers NGO pushes P3.7B hike in agri fund

MALAYA, October 13, 2006



Rice Watch and Action Network (R1) has urged Congress through Rep.Lorenzo Tañada III and Akbayan party list Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel to allocate additional P3.7 billion in the agriculture budget to cover support for organic and sustainable agriculture, investments in repair and building of communal and small irrigation systems, farm-to-market roads and post-harvest facilities.


"The proposed increase is quite modest considering that agriculture is still the main source of livelihood of the majority of the population.


However, we also need to consider the capacity of the Department of Agriculture to manage and ensure transparency in spending as we do not need another Joc-joc Bolante case," said Jessica Reyes-Cantos, R1 Lead Convenor.


R1 submitted its recommendation to the House of Representatives as the body deliberates on the proposed agriculture budget for 2007. The Department of Agriculture is proposing a total of P19 billion agriculture spending with only P3 billion as part of the regular budget and P16 billion under the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA).


"It is high time for the DA to recognize organic and sustainable approaches to farming as a viable mode to increase productivity. AFMA may bring in the necessary investments in the rural areas but it remains silent on the need to shift from highly intensive and environmentally damaging technologies to more sustainable agriculture production," said Cantos.


R1 proposed additional P200 million for farmers training on Systems of Rice Intensification (SRI), establishment of community seed bank and setting up of demonstration farms of sustainable agriculture in strategic farming provinces.


The SRI technology is already being used nationwide and was able to increase yields of up to 9 metric tons/hectare without favoring any particular type of seed. The system has high labor requirements and can potentially create additional on-farm employment.


R1 also warned the DA against betting all its aces on the hybrid rice technology. Cantos said community seed banking system can provide the farmers with access to their choice of good quality seeds suitable to the localities’ soil and climatic conditions.


"The DA can wisely spend its resources on research and development of agriculture technologies that offer additional rural employment and investment that lasts beyond one planting season unlike the hybrid rice varieties," said Cantos.


DA Secretary Domingo Panganiban and PhilRice Executive Director Leocadio Sebastian earlier called for the phase-out of subsidy for hybrid rice in 2007. Other companies manufacturing hybrid seeds have also asked the government to phase-out its subsidies to create a level playing field for all seed suppliers.
R1 also asked Congress for additional one billion pesos for the irrigation budget and an additional P15 million for water, soil and analysis and water impounding mechanisms.


"Investment in irrigation is necessary as it immediately doubles production but would need to prioritize the repair of existing irrigation systems to reduce the cost while providing the farmers with the service they sorely need," said Cantos.


Data from the National Irrigation Administration as of 2004 showed only P70,000 per hectare are needed for repair and rehabilitation while new national irrigation systems require as much as P300,000 per hectare.




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