The Duterte administration’s glaringly low prioritization of agriculture is worsening the country’s decline in food self-sufficiency, said research group IBON. The group said that the negligible budget and lack of support for agriculture in the proposed 2022 national budget is aggravating long-time neglect of the sector. Production support for small farmers and fisherfolk as part of a larger economic stimulus program is even more urgent.
IBON said that agriculture’s small share in the budget shows the administration’s lack of support for the sector. The already dismal 3.6% average annual share of agriculture and agrarian reform in the 2017-2021 national budgets under Duterte has fallen to an even smaller 3% in the proposed 2022 budget. This average is also the lowest since the Ramos administration (3.5%).
The group said that this low prioritization is worsening the decades-long decline of agriculture. IBON noted that the agriculture sector grew by an annual average of just 1.6% in 2017-2020 under the Duterte administration, which is just a little over half the 2.9% average annual growth over the previous 16-year period (2001-2016). The sector also fell to just an annual average of 9.8% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017-2020, which is the smallest among post-Marcos administrations.
With less importance given to bolstering domestic agriculture, the country’s dependence on food imports is heightening under the Duterte government, said IBON. For instance, the rice import dependency ratio rose from 5% in 2016 to 20.2% in 2019 in the wake of the Rice Liberalization Law of 2017. The import dependency ratio also increased significantly over the same period in: garlic (89.1% to 92.2%); potato (14.8% to 18.1%); beef (32.7% to 40.3%); tuna (3.7% to 17%); pork (10.6% to 12.9%); and galunggong (0.4% to 21.9%).
The country also had a US$7.7-billion average annual agriculture trade deficit in 2018-2020, which is the largest three-year deficit in the last four decades.
IBON said that this crisis in agriculture is resulting in widespread poverty and loss of livelihoods for the country’s small farmers and fisherfolk. The poverty incidence among farmers (31.6%) and fisherfolk (26.2%) is much higher than the national average (16.7%). Under the Duterte administration, an average of 328,000 agricultural jobs were lost annually from 2017-2020, which is the worst among the last six administrations.
To ensure the nation’s food self-sufficiency amid the ongoing COVID crisis, the government needs to significantly boost its support for the agriculture sector and its smallest producers. In the short term, the administration should mark as urgent the immediate passage of a stimulus package that includes substantial agricultural support and subsidies. IBON’s stimulus proposal includes Php220 billion in agricultural support, while the Makabayan bloc’s SHIELD+ bill has Php678.5-billion worth.
The government should also substantially increase the 2022 allocation for agriculture and agrarian reform. For instance, Congress can approve the Makabayan bloc’s Php94.7 billion in proposed 2022 budget amendments for local palay procurement, production subsidy to farmers, and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).
Long term food self-sufficiency however depends on a government that truly gives this priority and strengthens domestic agriculture with significant protection and support. A robust agricultural sector will help create more jobs, raise incomes, and spur economic activity, said the group.