Congress approves P7-B budget for DA

Christine A. Gaylican,

Philippine Daily Inquirer

First posted 00:54:27 (Mla time) December 18, 2006



CONGRESS has approved a P7-billion budget for the Department of Agriculture's 2007 post-harvest program, according to Agriculture Secretary Arthur C. Yap.


The bicameral committee, composed of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, passed the budget to enable the DA to reduce agricultural production losses, Yap said.


Specifically, the budget will be used to improve drying and storage facilities for chief commodities, such as rice and corn, as well as upgrade cold chain facilities for high-value crops.


The DA expects the initial P1-billion allocation for its post-harvest program before the end of the month, Yap said.


The initial allocation would arrive just in time for the harvest of the dry season cropping, Yap said. "We need to put up the facilities that will lessen post-harvest losses."


Farmers lose as much as 48 percent of their annual harvests due to inadequate or non-existent post-harvest facilities.


Also, rice experts from around the Asia-Pacific are urging the Philippine government to increase public spending on rice and take an active role in boosting production as what Asia's top rice exporting countries have done.


"Put your money where your mouth is," was what the experts in effect told the country's top policy makers in a book, "State Intervention in the Rice Sector in Selected Countries."


The book is published by the South East Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARice) and Rice Watch and Action Network (R1).


"State intervention was a key element in increasing rice production in Asia's top rice producers," said Elenita Dano, one of the authors of the book.


The SEARice book tries to draw lessons from the experiences of rice exporting countries like Thailand, Vietnam, the United States and China, as well as rice importing ones, like Indonesia and Malaysia. The experts analyzed data of each country's rice industry as well as agricultural policies.


According to the study, strong state intervention on seed technology, irrigation, fertilizers, post-harvest handling, credit, research and others, played a critical role in increasing rice production--something which has not yet been done in the Philippines on a large scale.


The book cited how Thailand's rice production has outpaced population growth since the mid-1990s, largely because of heavy public investments on road networks and irrigation.


While Filipino farmers are made to abandon traditional rice varieties and rely on hybrid seeds that they have to buy from multinational firms, Thai farmers have succeeded in improving traditional rice varieties that commanded high prices in the market, Dano said during a briefing.


R1 Rice Network Coalition lead convenor Jessica Cantos-Reyes said the Philippine government's thrust to promote high-yielding hybrid rice at the expense of the traditional rice varieties limits farmers' access to seed production.


"To exclude poor farmers in the rice production equation is a hindrance to a self-sufficient economy," said Cantos-Reyes.


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