Senator-elect Alan Peter Cayetano batted for more support for the agriculture sector, saying ensuring the country’s food security is as vital as securing the country from external and internal threats.
“When we talk about agriculture, fisheries, et cetera, we’re really also talking about security, about food security,” Cayetano said at the recent India-Philippines Business Conference on Agricultural Cooperation.
Speaking at the event, which was hosted by the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food, Cayetano said the effects of the war in Ukraine show how important it is to secure the country’s food supply.
He said the government needs to do a better job at strengthening the domestic agricultural sector because neglecting it can lead to widespread instability in the country.
The senator-elect suggested that the government embark on a campaign to make agriculture appealing to more Filipinos through integrated pilot projects involving several government agencies, not just the Department of Agriculture (DA).
He said in order to help farmers and agricultural workers in an integrated manner, the DA must work with other agencies that have ongoing livelihood support programs such as the Department of Labor and Employment, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Department of Trade and Industry.
In addition, Cayetano suggested the piloting of localized urban farming projects in Metro Manila and other major cities around the country, akin to the city vegetable gardens operated by the residents of Cayetano’s home city of Taguig.
He also mentioned the floating fish pens and other components of the agri-business corridor project that the city of Taguig is working on as examples of localized pilot projects that bring livelihood opportunities in agriculture closer to the people.
“The problem with an archipelago with a centralized government is that we’re always one-size-fits-all. Why can’t we do pilot projects?” Cayetano said.
The senator-elect added that a nationwide push for localized pilot projects in agriculture will help popularize careers in the sector.
“Gusto nating uso ang agriculture, we want agriculture to be in trend? Well first it has to be a fad, let’s start the trend,” he said.
Write the check for agriculture
This, however, will require the next administration to include the agriculture sector in its main budget priorities starting next year, according to Cayetano. He pointed out that the P5-trillion national budget for 2022 is already an indication that the government is not afraid to spend.
“If we really put our heads together, and if we really find a way to make agriculture the trend and we get the right people, P150 to P250 billion budget for agriculture is very doable,” Cayetano said.
He said the next president can require all government agencies to save at least one percent of their budget allocation and realign it towards government agricultural projects.
“If Congress is really planning another stimulus budget (for next year), that’s a good place to start,” he added.
The senator-elect urged the incoming administration as well as his colleagues in the incoming Congress to make agriculture a priority by allocating a greater chunk of the national budget for investments in the sector.
“When people say that agriculture is in our heart, make sure that when the checkbook comes out, the check’s written to agriculture,” Cayetano said.
“You cannot tell someone that it is a priority, then put the money in something else,” he added.