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Marcos at DA facing food mess

Balisacan warned that a food crisis has risen already, along with the Avian flu that has jacked up meat prices



Grain of thought Agriculture development being a key priority of the Bongbong Marcos administration, it’s important to look at the situation in the Philippines today. Filipino farmers like this man in Alubijid town in Misamis Oriental, south of Mindanao should be supported as government plans to boost rice production this year. Only a handful of countries have large rice surpluses, leaving even some of the biggest producers scrambling to grow enough to feed their own people. | ROMEO GACAD/Agence France-Presse

A day after President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. announced he’s taking over as agriculture secretary, incoming Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan warned Tuesday of an agricultural crisis threatening the nation.

Balisacan, who will also serve as National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) chief, said that “a food crisis has risen already” along with the Avian flu that “has been with us that has led to meat price increases.”

He said that keeping rice prices within reach of the public has also been problematic even if tariffication has brought down the prices of the staple grain 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,” Balisacan said.

“So with that, I would say that our agriculture is in crisis,” he added.

He pointed out a bleaker scenario of some rice-producing countries now planning to limit their exports to protect their citizens from rising prices. Rice-importing countries like the Philippines will have to increase local production, he stressed.

Marcos on Monday said he felt compelled to lead the Department of Agriculture (DA) as “we are forecasting that there will be a shortage, or there will be an increase in food prices in the next quarters.”

The President-elect, who will take his oath on 30 June as the country’s 17th Chief Executive, said that “outside forces” have been impacting the Philippines’ supply of food and even feeds.

“You may have noted that Thailand, Vietnam for example, two of our main sources of imported rice, have decided to ban their rice exports at least for now. So, we have to compensate for that by hopefully increasing production here in the Philippines, so that’s one,” Marcos said.

“As I have mentioned many times before, many of the agencies have changed their functions over the years and maybe it’s time to return them,” he said, referring to the National Food Authority, Food Terminal Inc. (FTI) and Kadiwa, among others.

“But we have to structure the actual department so as to be more responsive to the global situation now when it comes to the food supply,” he added, saying he’ll have the P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund created by Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law reviewed.

“Maybe we can have a look at that and see, maybe now we are in a situation where we very much have to boost production and we very much have to support the farmers, maybe we can look at that and hopefully increase it.”

Outgoing DA Secretary William Dar described Marcos’ announcement as a show of political will, as a strategic move, and the high priority his administration is giving to ensuring the country’s food security.

“The decision by President Marcos to take leadership [at the DA] meanwhile, even for a short period, is very strategic,” Dar told reporters. “We expect to see a bigger budget for the DA in the years to come.”

“We are confident this will all go to an unprecedented whole of government, the movement for the urgent attainment of food security and food sovereignty in this time of crisis,” he said.

Dar added his team is ready to help Marcos achieve a swift transition in leadership “in our joint aspiration to attain food security and ultimately food sovereignty.”

He said the DA has already submitted a transition report to the Marcos administration that points out the state of Philippine agriculture, identifying the issues and challenges the sector is facing.

Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship on Monday welcomed Marcos’ move to lead the DA as many of the country’s micro, small and medium enterprises are based in the agriculture sector.

“There are many programs that his father started that I believe can be revived and will redound to benefits for the country’s agriculture sector,” Concepcion said.

“Masagana 99, the FTI and the Kadiwa stores are only but a few of the projects that I believe can be revisited today,” the founder of Go Negosyo said.

Former DA chief Manny Piñol also heralded Marcos’ assumption of the DA post as “a brilliant move and a big break for Philippine agriculture… the first time that a Philippine President will personally lead the country’s food security program.

“Now, the DA secretary would not need to wiggle through the gauntlet of the Development Budget Coordinating Committee composed of financial managers which determines how much budget is allocated for each department,” Piñol said.

“The new DA chief will not have to wait for hours in the waiting lounges of Congress and Senate for his turn to defend his budget,” he intoned, apparently recounting his own experience in facing budgetary obstacles as DA chief.