‘Give farmers a chance!’

May 22, 2020

It is bad enough that state assistance to the strategic sector is negligible, but please do not belittle the contribution of agriculture to economic growth an national development.

After all, of all the pillars of the economy, the farming-fishery sector is the one actually generating food and feeding the population through crises and the good times.  

Many disparage the sector as having “marginal productivity”.

But could this nominal performance be on account precisely of the sheer lack of government support to the sector?

Most other countries heavily subsidize their respective farm sectors.        

And so can we blame a thoroughly upset Sen. Imee Marcos for denouncing Finance Sec. Carlos Dominguez's attempt to downplay the present lack of government aid to farmers when he claimed that the country never exported rice in the 70's under the Masagana 99 program?

"Shame on you, Secretary Dominguez, give the Filipino farmer some credit! When supported by sound government policy and defended against rampant importation, we can feed ourselves. Give the Filipino farmer a chance!" Marcos said.

The Finance chief "lost his cool" during the Senate's hearing Wednesday when Marcos asked him why large cash infusions were being made to Land Bank of the Philippines, the Development Bank of the Philippines, and Philguarantee instead of giving direct assistance to marginalized sectors through a network of commercial, rural, and cooperative banks similar to that in Masagana 99.

"Even President Duterte already warned Land Bank during his last State-of-the-Nation Address, since they were only lending to big business at the expense of farmers, who are supposed to be the primary customers," the feisty lady lawmaker said..

Contrary to Dominguez's claim, the country did export rice to neighboring countries when farmers under Masagana 99 produced a surplus of some 89,000 metric tons in 1977 to 1978, according to Dr. Emil Q. Javier, an agronomist and former president of the University of the Philippines.

The Philippine Rice Research Institute also reported that rice exportation in 2013 was only the second time it took place since Masagana 99 was launched by Marcos's father, then President Ferdinand Marcos.

"President Duterte was pushing for a revival of Masagana 99 early on in his administration, but maybe Dominguez misled his best friend too," the senator said.

Marcos lamented the "crumbs" of livelihood support allotted to farmers, citing that P 5,000 in cash aid did not reach many farmers and could not be stretched to buy seeds and fertilizer for the next planting season.

She added that most farmers who till only a hectare or two of land were intimidated by having to apply for loans and were unlikely to avail of more than P 600 billion in off-budget funds coursed through the Land Bank  for agricultural aid.

"Banks only lend money to people with money. What borrowing capacity do poor, unregistered farmers really have? Only big business will qualify and benefit from such funding," she said.

Marcos added that Dominguez revealed his disdain for poor farmers who could not pay back their loans when he called 800 banks participating in Masagana 99 a mess that had to be cleaned up when he was agriculture secretary during the Cory Aquino administration.

"What our country's chief economic manager is really saying is that rice farmers are a pain in the budget and are not worth subsidizing. He has given up on our rice farmers ever regaining their export potential and will let unregulated rice importation do the dirty job of snuffing them out," she said.

Earlier, Agriculture Sec. William Dar has recommended to lawmakers a P66-billion stimulus plan to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus disease on the agriculture sector.

During a virtual hearing of the House Committee on Agriculture and Food, Dar said the stimulus package would include P15 billion for the cash for work program for agri-fishery workers, P20 billion for food logistics or food markets, and P31 billion for “Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat”  Kontra sa Covid-19 Program.

He said the cash for work program aims to provide jobs to one million agri-fishery workers by granting each beneficiary aid amounting to P15,000.

"The goal of this cash-for-work program is to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 by ensuring basic food requirements of poor farming families," he added.

"The DA will be actively involved in the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pagasa Program. We are also aligning the department to the program for 2021," he vowed.

For the food logistics program proposal, he said P15 billion would  be allocated for food logistics and food markets, P1.8 billion for expanding extension support to the provincial local government units, P1 billion for the strengthening of price monitoring and enforcement system, P1 billion for agricultural and fisheries commodity exchange system, P1 billion for digital agriculture, and P200 million for communication support to Agri-4Ps (Plant, Plant, Plant Program).

The program seeks to ensure proper food distribution and strengthen food supply links from farms to markets.