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Safety nets seen urgently needed by farmers as inflation raises input costs

CULTIVATORS are in urgent need of relief from inflation as prices for inputs like fuel, feed, and fertilizer rise, economists and farm worker advocates said to mark World Food Day.

Ayn G. Torres, an agriculture economist, said “quick courses of action have yet to be seen” in terms of helping the vulnerable in the agriculture sector.

“Given how food security has also been exacerbated by climate-related disasters, it will be critical for the administration to address with urgency the social protection of farmers and fishers,” she said via chat.

Ms. Torres said over the long term, innovative approaches to agriculture policy have yet to emerge. “For the earmarking of the proposed 2023 budget for example, programs like the KADIWA Center or the Bantay ASF (African Swine Fever) Barangay Control and Management were put in place during the past administrations.”

KADIWA is a farm-to-consumer program that aims to provide affordable and accessible agri-fishery goods to the public as well as increase producers’ income.

“If the administration is keen on creating rural enterprises and farm-to-market roads, let us note that these have all been on the agenda even of past administrations,” Ms. Torres said.

She said the decision by President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to appoint himself agriculture Secretary is an opportunity to concentrate government resources across various agencies to address food security, “which is not a standalone issue.”

“It remains to be seen whether the decision to ‘lead’ an agency despite the already gargantuan task of the presidency will backfire soon,” she said. “And it doesn’t matter whether there is optimism or not from our end, what’s important is that our farmers and fishers feel the support that the government has always promised to the sector as soon as possible.”

Ms. Torres nevertheless welcomed the apparent priority given to agriculture as seen in the proposed 2023 budget, in which the allocation for agriculture increased by nearly 40% in 2023.

“(This) indicates the prioritization of this sector as communicated in recent statements,” she said. “As to where these are earmarked will be more critical.”

Meanwhile, farm worker association urged the Marcos administration to deliver on food self-sufficiency and renewed calls to review the 2019 Rice Tariffication Law.

“It is ironic that an agricultural country like the Philippines is a net importer of its basic food needs. Tons of local agricultural products are being dumped while the country continues to import,” the Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women said in a statement.

“Instead of fostering self-sufficiency and self-reliance by supporting domestic agricultural production, the Philippine government submits to the global food system — a system dictated by large multi- and transnational companies,” Rural Women Advocates said separately.

The groups called for the repeal of the tariffication law — Republic Act No. 1120 — which they said has “decimated domestic production by driving farmgate prices down.”

During the campaign, Mr. Marcos said he is inclined to suspend the law if elected President.

Weeks after he took office in June, however, his Finance Secretary, Benjamin E. Diokno, said reviewing the law is not an administration priority.

The groups also backed bills seeking the provision of a P15,000 production subsidy for farmers and fisherfolk and exempting basic commodities such as bread, sugar and cooking oil from the 12% value-added tax. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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