MANILA — Agriculture is the key to eradicating poverty in the Philippines, said Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan Wednesday, International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, as he pushes for a bigger agriculture budget.
Pangilinan, who was Presidential Adviser on Food Security and Agriculture Modernization during the Aquino administration, said the agriculture budget must steadily increase so that the country can at least compete with its rice-exporting neighbors Thailand and Vietnam.
“As against the Philippines’ 2.45 billion USD annual agriculture budget, Vietnam’s 70.23 billion USD is over 28 times bigger and Thailand’s 1 trillion baht (or about 32.994 billion USD) is 13.44 times bigger,” Pangilinan said, citing Department of Agriculture data.
Pangilinan said that government focus on agriculture — in terms of budget allocation – will uplift the lives of the poor.
“One in every five Filipinos lives in poverty — not eating enough, in poor health, living in abject conditions. This situation is unacceptable given that we are a country rich in natural resources and human talent,” he said.
“Ang pinakamaraming mahihirap ay mga magsasaka, mangingisda, at mga bata,” he added, citing 2015 government data indicating that farmers posted the highest poverty incidence at 34.3% followed by fishermen at 34.0% and children at 31.4%.
Pangilinan said increasing the agriculture budget will also allow Agriculture Secretary Willliam Dar to meet his target of 2% agricultural growth by the end of the first year to ensure food security. Farm output as of the 1st quarter of 2019 stood at a paltry 0.67%.
“Ang kailangan ng mga magsasaka at mangingisda natin ay hindi dole-out, kailangan nila ng mas makabuluhang ayuda para maging mas productive at competitive (Our farmers need more than dole-out, they need meaningful assistance to make them productive and competitive),” Pangilinan said.
He said relevant and right policies should also be in place to boost the sector, make their livelihood sustainable, and capacitate them to face the challenges of food security and world trade.
“Secretary Dar has also acknowledged that prosperity is non-existent in almost all agricultural households as a typical Filipino farmer earns an average of only P100,000 per year or just over P8,000 a month,” Pangilinan said.
“Thus, the challenge is to raise the farmers’ income, triple or even quadruple it, so that it becomes a liveable rate,” he said.
The senator said it was not enough to see billions of funds poured into the department’s budget or to various agriculture-related programs.
“Farmers should feel this and should be able to partake of this, and the best proof is seeing their incomes increased,” he said.
“The most number and the poorest people in the country are farmers. Unless we address agriculture, development programs will be unsustainable,” Pangilinan added.