World Bank official backs bigger budget for agriculture department

Bruce Rodriguez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 09 2020 07:19 PM

A rice farmer in Nueva Ecija. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News file photo

MANILA - A World Bank official on Wednesday said he supports the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) plea for a bigger budget next year to speed up the country's economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eli Weiss, Senior Agriculture Economist at the World Bank said it is crucial for the local farm sector to receive the "right level of investments" from the government.

Aside from helping the economy recover from the pandemic, Weiss said agriculture is also important for "poverty reduction, for inclusive growth, and for improved food and nutrition security."

"So we definitely agree that the agriculture sector should receive its good portion for that," he added.

The DA has been pushing for a bigger budget for 2021, after its proposed allocation from the national government was reduced to P66.4 billion from this year's P79.9 billion.

The DA asked for P240 billion for 2021, after President Rodrigo Duterte acknowledged its importance in the country's economic recovery from the health crisis.

Agriculture Undersecretary Ariel Cayanan said the agency would find it “really, very challenging” to accomplish its targets with the smaller approved budget. To offset the budget cut, Cayanan said the DA will seek investments from the private sector.

Weiss and Cayanan were among the speakers at the World Bank's launch of its report on the local farm sector titled, "Transforming Philippine Agriculture During Covid-19 and Beyond”. 

The report, prepared as part of World Bank support to the DA's “new thinking” in agricultural development, recommends shifting away from a heavy focus on specific crops such as rice toward improving the overall resilience, competitiveness, and sustainability of the rural sector.

Weiss, the lead author of the report, said the local agriculture sector should grow faster than the country's population.

"But it should definitely be higher than just that," he said. "The growth should be not just on farming, it should be on the entire value chain."

Weiss said this could be in boosting the country's post-harvest facilities as well as developing agro-processing infrastructure.

The United Nations Population Fund earlier reported that the Philippine population grew by 1.6 percent annually from 2010 to 2019 which is faster than India's 1.2 percent pace.

Conversely, the country's agriculture sector has been growing an average of 1.9 percent in the past decade.