Roxas to PGMA: Focus on productivity vs. dole-outs in SONA

Saturday, July 26, 2008 | posted in , , , , , , , , | 0 comments

Senator Mar Roxas urged the President to focus more on how to achieve greater productivity for the poor especially in the countryside, rather than merely list dole-out programs, when she delivers her State of the Nation Address on Monday, where she is expected to launch the National Social Welfare Program.

This, as he recently filed two bills that will provide the government with short-term and long-term plans and tools to achieve immediate rice sufficiency and long-term food security and to jumpstart an agriculture renaissance in the country.
"More than a litany of dole-outs, the President should focus on increasing the productivity and incomes of the poor, especially our farmers and others in the agriculture sector who are now harvesting less and earning less due to the high cost of farm inputs like fertilizer," he said.
"We recognize that dole-outs are needed to alleviate the pain of those who are already at the end of the road. But this should not be the be-all and end-all of how we will approach the ongoing food and oil price crisis," he added.
The Liberal Party President had earlier said that the most important concern now is how to address the increasing incidence of hunger due to the high price and insufficient supply of rice. He stressed that of the total budget of the poorest 30% of the population, 60% is allocated for food (40% of which on rice), thereby making them the most vulnerable to price and supply shocks.
"More Filipinos now are saying that they have felt hunger. This is bound to get worse if not addressed. We in Congress must urgently enact tools to fight hunger, but we can only do so if this is considered as the top priority by the administration," the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Trade and Commerce added.
Senate Bill No. 2469, or the proposed Immediate Rice Security Act, seeks to achieve immediate rice security through a Fertilizer Support Program (FSP) for all farmers and the restructuring of the National Food Authority (NFA). The proposed FSP is a "buy-two-take-three" mechanism, where each purchase of two bags of in-kind urea (46% nitrogen) allows a farmer to avail of three additional bags from a Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority-designated distribution center.

The bill also provides for a phase-out of the NFA's rice importation program to make way for private sector participation, and to change the NFA's role as importer into a buffer stock management agency. In the interim, the NFA must provide a shorter registration process and reduced fees to encourage farmers' organizations and other groups in the private sector to participate in importation.

SB No. 2468, the proposed Agricultural Renaissance and Food Sufficiency Act, on the other hand, is aimed at ensuring long-term self-sufficiency. The bill is anchored on an accelerated ten-year Agricultural Investment Program for increased research and development (R&D), better irrigation systems and other reforms.

Under the bill, the government is mandated to maximize R&D support to farmers—or R&D extension services—by making this more location-specific and resource-sensitive, while promoting new technologies for commercial purposes. Such R&D shall involve farmers and their organizations, along with other players in the production and post-production process.

The Department of Agriculture and the National Irrigation Administration will also be tasked to conduct an evaluation of the country's irrigation systems, to determine which ones need rehabilitation. The bill also mandates that for new irrigation systems that will be build, priority must be given to small-scale irrigation systems. Roxas said that according to studies, small water impounding systems are more affordable and more efficient than large-scale systems.

The bill also affirms and strengthens the Department of Agriculture's mandate to provide technical assistance to farmers and the rest of the private sector in the use of post-harvest facilities and availing of extension services, among other things.

It provides for the NFA's change in mandate, so that it is primarily tasked to maintain and manage rice reserve requirements within ten years of implementation of the Agricultural Investment Plan, from its present role as importer.

To implement all of these, the bill proposes an additional appropriation of P1.1-billion per year for 10 years, on top of the DA's regular annual appropriation.

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