BACOLOD

Review of Sida fund utilization pushed

QUEZON CITY. Agriculture Secretary and Sugar Board Chair Emmanuel Piñol (standing) responds to the concerns of sugar farmers during the Sugarcane Industry Stakeholders' Summit at the BSWM Convention Hall in Quezon City yesterday. (Erwin Nicavera)

QUEZON CITY -- Sugar industry stakeholders in the country called on the government to review the utilization of the Sugar Industry Development Act (Sida) fund amid concerns on a budget cut due to underspending.

The move is part of the resolutions passed and submitted by stakeholders to Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol during the conclusion of the Sugarcane Industry Stakeholders’ Summit at the Bureau of Soils and Water Management Convention Hall here Tuesday, February 12.

Piñol said the stakeholders felt that the division of Sida fund is not appropriate to their needs.

The stakeholders also asked for possible amendment of the Sida law. They cited that the P500-million budget for research can be used for direct farm interventions.

“The budget has not been fully utilized, from P2 billion it was reduced to P500 million because of slow utilization,” he said, adding that the farmers are having difficulties on accessing the fund through the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP).

Based on the data presented during the summit, the disbursement and utilization rate of Sida fund was only at 66 percent as of December 2018.

The lowest accomplishment rate was noted in socialized credit, at only one percent.

Farm-to-mill road and infrastructure posted 82 percent accomplishment rate; block farm - 78 percent; research, development and extension - 68 percent; and scholarships - an average of 91 percent.

For the DA's level, the agriculture secretary said he would like the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) to implement direct fund turnover starting this year.

Under the measure, instead of bidding the machineries like tractors, the fund will be turned over to the farmers guided by the agency-estimate cost.

The fund will be released directly to the farmers' associations, who will then buy the equipment without passing through the government bidding.

The same measure will be adopted for farm inputs like fertilizers, Piñol said.

Piñol said he was shocked to know during the summit that the fertilizer support fund for Cagayan Valley sugar farmers has been allocated since 2016 yet subject to bidding until now.

“If that is the case, we are depriving the people of services from the government,” he added.

It can be recalled that Sida was created in 2015 to boost the production of sugarcane and sugar, and increase the income of sugarcane farmers or planters and farm workers.


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