Opposition Sen. Chiz Escudero yesterday called on government to give agriculture a bigger share of the stimulus package to boost incomes and livelihood in the countryside and decrease the country's dependence on imported grain, particularly rice.
"Rather than continue to harp about our location in the typhoon belt, government should instead allocate more funds for the agricultural sector and find ways to mitigate the impact of climate change on our production cycle," he said.
"The Department of Agriculture has a budget of nearly P44 billion this year and about 40 percent of that will go to irrigation alone. But instead of building dams, it should just repair or rehabilitate existing ones that will likely require less spending, or allot funds to construct more post-harvest facilities " Escudero said.
World Bank records show that from the years 2000-04, Thailand, then the world's biggest rice exporter, spent 7.3 percent of its public sector budget for agriculture while the Philippines spent only half of that figure.
He also noted that a recent study by Transparency International (TI) reveals that a huge amount of money allocated to irrigation is often lost to corruption in the Philippines through cost overruns.
Data from the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics indicate that the rice supply of 2.64 million metric tons for 2009, which includes the National Food Agency (NFA) rice inventory, household and commercial warehouse stocks, is good for 82 days.
"My concern is that 61 percent of the NFA rice inventory of 935,000 metric tons at the start of the year was imported rice, and this made the Philippines one of the biggest rice importers in the world," Escudero said.
"Now is the best time to prepare for the lean months next year. We should expand programs that aim to boost domestic rice production to lessen our dependence on imported rice ," he said.
Escudero also said the government strictly enforce "green" laws and boost environmental awareness programs as part of the overall effort to contain damage wrought on agriculture by climate change.