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Agri group calls on government for more funds for farmers as food crisis looms

The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) on Tuesday called for more government funding for more farmers, citing a looming food crisis warned by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

"Instead of importing, bakit hindi pondohan ang pag-aayos ng mga sakahan at mga post-harvest facilities, tulungan ang mga rice millers, mamahagi ng libreng farm inputs, taasan ang support price ng palay at ibigay ang lahat ng suporta sa mga magsasaka," SINAG chair Rosendo So said in an e-mailed statement.

His statement comes after the FAO warned of a possible food crisis as countries have closed their borders as part of national measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

"The FAO has been calling on countries not to restrict the flow of food around the world, but the reality is that countries are closing their borders and free trade deals are being bypassed through protectionist policies that will ensure food security for their people and their respective local markets," said So.

Vietnam, the world's largest rice exporter, earlier decided to halt new rice export contracts to ensure its food security given the global health crisis.

The National Food Authority (NFA) has since claimed it has stock good for 75 days, but the  Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has since recommended the importation of an additional 300,000 metric tons to ensure supply.

"Tayong bansa na lang ata ang naniniwala sa unli-import mindset. The response of our economic managers to Vietnam’s export ban is regrettably, but expectedly, to import an additional 300,000 metric tons of imported rice," said So.

"Now is the most opportune moment, with promised supplemental budget, for government to help reinvigorate the rice industry and support the whole agriculture sector, from livestock to poultry farms, from backyard growers to small fishers," he elaborated.

For its part, the IATF-EID has already approved to give a P31-billion supplemental budget for the Department of Agriculture (DA) which will bankroll a national "Plant, Plant, Plant" program to ensure food sufficiency during the enhanced community quarantine.

The P31-billion supplemental budget includes:

  • P7.5 billion - rice resiliency project;
  • P7 billion - palay procurement fund of the National Food Authority;
  • P3 billion - expanded SURE Aid and recovery project;
  • P3 billion - expanded agriculture insurance project;
  • P3 billion - social amelioration for farmers and farm workers;
  • P1 billion - upscaling of KADIWA ni Ani at Kita;
  • P1 billion - integrated livestock and corn resiliency project;
  • P1 billion - expanded small ruminants and poultry project;
  • P1 billion - coconut-based diversification project;
  • P1 billion - fisheries resiliency project;
  • P1 billion - revitalized gulayan project;
  • P500 million - urban agriculture project;
  • P500 million - acquisition of protective personal equipment;
  • P300 million - corn for food project; and
  • P200 million - information, education and communications project.

Prior to this, Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez also gave the assurance that there is enough food to last until the end of the enhanced community quarantine.

In a separate statement on Monday, the DA said it will also intensify the promotion of urban agriculture through the distribution of free vegetable seeds and planting materials nationwide.

"We need to explore all strategies to ensure that food productivity, availability and sufficiency is attained, particularly in this challenging time," said Secretary William Dar.

"With the program, we hope to provide households, especially in the metropolitan areas, the opportunity to produce fresh and healthy food for their backyard for their tables. This way, we can help them attain food security even beyond the enhanced community quarantine period in Luzon," he elaborated. -MDM, GMA News