Opposition Sen. Chiz Escudero said over the weekend that government should make agriculture one of its priorities to lessen the country's dependence on imports.
Philippine agricultural imports have continued to rise by about 12 percent annually since 2004 when it reached nearly $4 billion.
During the first half of 2008, total agricultural import expenditures reached more than $3 billion, or 12 percent of total import expenditures; among the biggest agricultural imports are milk and dairy products and wheat that account for nearly 25 percent of it.
"As a tropical nation we should focus on agriculture. But we are not doing anything to improve it. For example, while we have the capability to make the dairy industry better, government has not provided assistance and incentives for it," he said at a gathering of farmers in Nueva Ecija and Pampanga.
The Philippines imports about 85 percent of its dairy needs, with imports of milk and dairy products reaching $302 million during the first half of 2007 while domestic milk production was worth just $7.9 million.
Agricultural production accounted for about a fifth of the Philippine economic output of $168.6 billion in 2008.
Of the country's land area of 30 million hectares, about 47 percent is agricultural. Agriculture currently employs about 38 percent of total labor force of 36 million.
"I have authored a bill to amend the National Dairy Authority (NDA) charter. For the longest time, the budget of the NDA, which is the government agency tasked to oversee the development of the Philippine dairy industry, has not been sufficient," Escudero lamented, noting that the 2009 budget for it is only P102 million.
"SB 2670 seeks to amend the National Dairy Act of 1995 (RA 7884) to step up development of the domestic dairy industry, regulate the entry of milk products more tightly, increase our local dairy market share, and strengthen the dairy industry so that we won't rely too much on imported milk for our needs," he said.