Solon calls for bigger agricultural budget

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet (May 16) — The House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture chair Abraham Mitra during the committee’s regional consultation here said that the budget for the agriculture sector should be increased and that it should even be larger than the military’s.

“The agriculture sector should be second to education in terms of budget allocation and should have a higher budget than the military,” said Mitra adding that he will push for this in congress on the 2009 budget deliberations.

The congressman said he has talked about this with National Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro quoting the secretary that “he is also for this as long as their budget will not be reduced.”

Virgie Dammay of APIT-TAKO a peasant alliance in the Cordillera, said that they support Mitra’s call citing that as an agricultural country, the government should give priority to the development of the agriculture sector.

On the other hand, Dammay was also wary and said “ though increasing the budget for the agriculture sector would also mean more peoples’ money would be subjected to corruption.”

The 2008 national budget allocates P50.9 billion to the Department of National Defense while P26.8 billion to the Department of Agriculture.

Vegetable smuggling

Meanwhile, Cordillera farmers and representatives of different agricultural line agencies of the local government expressed their grave concern over the influx of imported and smuggled vegetables. This was raised during the consultation by the farmers as an urgent threat to the local vegetable production.

“This vegetable smuggling almost killed the province’s vegetable industry because nobody is buying our vegetables,” said Benguet Governor Nestor Fongwan.

Compared to the price of locally produced vegetables, smuggled vegetables are much cheaper thus preferred by the consumers.

Mitra reassured the participants that their committee would look into this matter.

Dammay on the other hand said that it is more the legal importation of vegetables that is killing the local vegetable industry.

“Entering into agreement under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade-World Trade Organization (GATT-WTO) is mainly the cause of this influx of cheap imported vegetables,” said Dammay citing that under this agreement, tariffs for imported agricultural products were lifted giving no protection for the local food industries.

“There is adequate supply of rice”

On the “rice crisis” issue, Mitra said that the country has an adequate supply of rice.

“The common sentiment of the farmers we have consulted during our rounds to the different regions, is to stop the importation of rice because there is really adequate supply,” said Mitra.

“We will have our own investigation on this to validate what the Department of Agriculture (DA) is saying that there is a rice shortage,” said Mitra adding that they would soon be ready to come up with their own findings. # Cye Reyes for NORDIS

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