A HOUSE leader has endorsed a much bigger outlay for the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in 2021 for the establishment of “mega farms” nationwide, in step with his envisioned government strategy to energize Philippine agriculture and achieve food security, especially at this time of the prolonged coronavirus pandemic.
During a recent hearing of the House committee on appropriations on the proposed DAR budget for next year, Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte moved for an increase of P3 billion to P5 billion in the Department’s total outlay so it could carry out its Mega Farms and Food Security Program in 2021.
Villafuerte’s support for a higher DAR budget for its “mega farms’ initiative is in line with the deputy speaker for finance’s “advocacy of priority state funding for agriculture to ensure national food security, especially at this time when the pandemic threatens to disrupt global food supplies.”
“If there is one thing that the ongoing global health crisis has taught us is the primacy of self-sufficiency as countries isolate themselves and shutter their businesses in a frantic bid to prevent the spread of a highly infectious pathogen that has sickened more than 27 million people and killed over 900,000 across the globe,” he said.
It was learned during the committee hearing that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) only approved a 2021 allocation of P8.8 billion for DAR, which is 7 percent below the department’s budget of P9.5 billion this year.
Undersecretary Bernie Cruz said during the panel hearing that with this 2021 budget plan, the Department wouldn’t have enough funds to implement the Mega Farms and Food Security Program.
This revelation prompted Villafuerte and Magsasaka Rep. Argel Cabatbat to propose during the committee hearing an increase in the DAR budget for the implementation of this program.
“I strongly push for the budget increase of DAR by P3 billion to P5 billion for the Mega Farms concept,” Villafuerte said.
DAR Undersecretary David Erro said during the hearing that his office has already pinpointed government owned-lands (GOLs) that can be used not only for the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) but also for President Duterte’s Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa (BP2) program and the DAR’s Mega Farms and Food Security Program.
Villafuerte has authored House Bill (HB) 6970 that aims to fast-track the Balik Probinsya program, which has secured the full backing of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), the country’s biggest business organization that boasts 35,000 small, medium and large enterprises nationwide.
“We cite the timeliness and are fully supportive of a bill filed in Congress by Deputy Speaker LRay Villafuerte, which will provide the basis for ensuring the sustainability of this program,” said PCCI president Ambassador Benedicto Yujuico and former GMA-7 president-CEO Menardo Jimenez, who chairs PCCI’s Balik Probinsya program, in their letter to President Duterte.
Under the Mega Farm concept, the DAR aims to develop 50-hectare areas for the specialized production of specific crops.
For Villafuerte, a former appropriations committee vice chairman, the DBM-endorsed DAR P8.85 billion budget for DAR in 2021 is “too small,” considering that only P741 million was allotted for the Agrarian Reform Beneficiary and Sustainability Program.
“The DAR submitted the mega farms proposal to the House. I am in favor of the concept as it involves consolidating farms now owned by beneficiaries into 50-hectare plantations in order to develop these for commercial farming. This will liberate the beneficiaries from subsistence farming,” Villafuerte said.