NATIONAL Economic and Development Authority (Neda) chairman-designate Arsenio Balisacan said on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, that the country is already experiencing a crisis in its agricultural sector given the soaring prices of primary commodities, especially food.

“Food crisis have risen already and as you know, the Avian flu, this problem, has been with us that has led to price increases of meat. Rice prices have also been a problem that while the tariffication has brought down the cap of prices quite a bit, they are still high and the issues that concern farmers, the low profitability of rice farming in agriculture and farming in general have to be faced. So with that I would say that our agriculture is in crisis,” Balisacan said in a television interview.

He said the situation may continue for the next few months given that other countries are considering adjusting the volume of their export products to protect their citizens.

Balisacan said countries, including the Philippines, will address the matter specifically by increasing local food production.

He said the National Government has the responsibility to protect especially the poor families from the effects of the food crisis, which was attributed to the prevailing coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, increasing oil prices and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Ang sa akin ang pinakauna, the rapid increase in price is already here and likely to get worse before they even get better. So we must protect the poorest and vulnerable groups in our society. We have to strengthen ‘yung ayuda natin, but this time, make sure the ayuda will go to the serving groups and not just to anyone,” Balisacan said.

On Monday, June 20, incoming President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. said he will temporarily take the helm of the Department of Agriculture (DA) upon his assumption of office amid the looming food crisis.

He said he is also in favor of continuously giving additional cash assistance to the poor families to cushion the effect of the crisis.

Agri sector weighs in

In a television interview, Agricultural Sector Alliance of the Philippines (Agap) Party-list first nominee Nicanor Briones said Marcos should also address issues on importation and smuggling, which badly impacted the agriculture sector of the country.

“Mali ‘yung policy na import liberalization na sinusunod ni (DA) Secretary (William) Dar, ‘yung economic managers, ang iniisip nila basta ikaw nag-import ay magkakaroon ng sapat na pagkain ang Pilipino,” he said.

“Ang dapat tutukan nila ano bang dahilan bakit tayo nagkukulang ng pagkain.” he added.

Reform agriculture

In a statement, members of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) also urged Marcos to commit to reforming the country’s agricutlural sector, including solving the problem of smuggling and importation of vegetables and other agricultural products in the country.

Danilo Ramos, KMP chairman, said Marcos will have to deal with a “thousand and one” problems in the agricultural sector once he assumes as DA chief temporarily.

“Among the tall order for Marcos Jr. as Agri chief is to address the skyrocketing prices of fertilizer that is hurting farmers,” Ramos added.

Marcos will also have to solve the rampant and unstoppable smuggling and illegal importation of vegetables and agricultural products mostly from China, Ramos said.

“We dare Marcos Jr. to weed out the so-called untouchables among high-ranking officials involved in smuggling,” he added.

Dar’s statement

Meanwhile, Dar welcomed the pronouncement of Marcos that he will temporarily take the lead of the agency.

“We see this pronouncement as a victory of the DA in rousing broad public support towards the sector’s rehabilitation and empowerment,” Dar said in a press conference.

“We are certain, moreover, by the statement of the president placing agriculture as top governance and budgetary priority. Thus, we expect to see bigger budget for the DA in the years to come,” he added.

Dar suggested the establishment of a food terminal system in regional, provincial and district levels to effectively manage the supply and distribution of local agriculture products. (TPM, JKV / SunStar Philippines)