FOLLOWING the devastation caused by Typhoon Santi to agriculture, Rep. Delphine Gan Lee of AGRI party-list (Agri-Agra Reporma Para sa Magsasaka ng Pilipinas) has pushed for “more focused long-term government spending in the agriculture sector to best mitigate the effects of climate change.”
In a statement, Lee stressed that aside from the strict implementation of roadmaps, “such as the FSSP [Food Staples Self-sufficiency Program],” that ensure the viability of the country’s sector, “programs that provide farmers and fisher folk with access to micro-credit should also be put in place.
“Subsistence farmers are often without any access to additional funding. They fall prey to loan sharks who approach them in times of natural calamities or other unfortunate financial conditions,” said the lawmaker.
Explaining her bill, the “Agriculture Micro-Credit Act of 2013,” Lee said that the government is “better off investing its financial resources in micro-credit if it wants to reduce poverty in rural areas and, in the long term, ensure higher productivity.
“Bettering the plight of our farmers is still one of the main challenges of the government and it is still primarily a rural phenomenon. Micro-credit is regarded as an innovative financial intermediation scheme aimed to reduce the incidence of poverty especially in the rural areas.”
Lee’s bill seeks to extend micro-credit services to farmers and fishermen through the Land Bank of the Philippines and other facilities “to facilitate the production, marketing, delivery and/or distribution of crops and acquisition of essential equipment, machinery, tools, and commodities” among others.
The program, with an initial funding of P25 billion, seeks to make available nationwide, “loans for the purchase of work animals, tillage equipment, seeds, fertilizers, poultry, livestock, feed and other similar items” for small farmers.
“The FSSP already provides the direction our country should be taking in terms of food security. Implementing that action plan conscientiously, complemented by this bill, which focuses government spending on poverty alleviation and capability building within the sector, will ensure that our objectives are met—with or without calamities,” added the lawmaker.
Initial estimates pegged damages caused by Santi at P2.9 billion to agriculture and losses of 133,000 metric tons (MT) to the country’s rice production.
The figures add to the “0.5 million to 1.4 MT rice shortfall” recently projected by National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Arsenio Balisacan who had proposed for the “importation of at least 0.5 million MT to address the projected supply gap,” she cited.
Both NEDA and FSSP recommend for importation to be the “primary role of the private sector,” with government funds better allocated for irrigation to improve rice production, lower prices and increase the income of farmers, among others.
In April 2013 alone, the DA-NFA spent some $94.5 million or more than P4 billion to import 205,700 MT of rice from Vietnam at $459.75 per MT, exclusive of duties and taxes.
It was later alleged that the transaction was overpriced by as much as half-a-billion pesos.