MANILA – The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Tuesday said it will be pushing for its banner programs for 2023 to increase prime commodity production in the country, including more than 20 million metric tons of rice.
During a budget hearing at the House of Representatives, DA Assistant Secretary Arnel de Mesa said they have doubled the proposed fund for the National Rice Program from PHP15.8 billion in 2022 to PHP30.5 billion in 2023, to address the projected rice production decline.
He added that out of PHP30.5 billion, the DA targets to allocate PHP19.5 billion for fertilizer assistance, "which will bring us to about 20.4 million metric tons (of rice) by 2023, the volume of production.”
Previous DA leaders had earlier warned of a looming food crisis, especially on rice, corn and other basic commodities amid high prices of farm inputs.
De Mesa also elaborated plans to realize their “historical targets,” in line with the food sufficiency priority of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
He noted that although there is still a “high level of obligation” for its banner programs, the DA has already tapped its regional offices to spend all unobligated funds until December.
“For the banner programs, mataas na po ‘yung level of obligation but with the instruction of our new Senior Undersecretary, Usec Panganiban, he already instructed all regional executive directors to immediately proceed with the full implementation of all projects especially for all banner programs, rice and corn, and other imported commodities so that we will be spending all the budget before the year ends and to have for 2023, to have immediately the advance procurement under the National Expenditure Program,” he said.
When asked by some lawmakers about an unobligated fund worth PHP29.2 billion, to which the DA defended that some programs under automatic appropriations are yet to be awarded before the year ends.
The DA said it will provide a geographical breakdown of the additional PHP21 billion it is asking for the national expenditure program, which is said to be a 107-percent increase, following the inquiry on supposedly “low allocation" in some regions like Region 6 (Western Visayas), 7 (Central Visayas) and 8 (Eastern Visayas), which were significantly affected by previous calamities.
These funds include expenditure on agricultural equipment, facilities, and infrastructure for farm-to-market roads, small-scale irrigation, types of machinery and a small portion of personal services.
Undersecretary Zamzamin Ampatuan, however, noted that a significant allocation should be also provided to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), as it is considered one of the key rice producers and one of the top five in corn production and fish production.
“It is always emphasized that BARMM should not be part of the total budget complement of DA. Our position on this aspect is that BARMM should not be excluded… Our suggestion in this regard is that there should be no discrimination in terms of key banner programs,” he said.
Overall, the DA is requesting a 40-percent increase in its budget, from last year’s PHP117.29 billion to PHP163.75 billion in 2023. (PNA)