Friday, April 4, 2008

KGMA 4/4/08

CLARK SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONE (PNA) -- President Gloria Macapagal
Arroyo on Friday launched six assistance packages for agriculture
which she called "FIELDS" -- F for fertilizer, I for irrigation and
Infrastructure, E for extension and education, L for loans and
insurance, D for dryers and other post-harvest facilities, and S for
seeds.

In her speech at the National Food Summit held at the Fontana
Convention Center here, the President said half of the planet depends
on rice but stocks are at their lowest since the mid-1970s when
Bangladesh suffered a terrible famine.

Rice production will fall this year below the global consumption
level of 430 million tons. Wheat is suffering greater pressures, with
price up 115 percent in a year. Farmers worldwide are worried about
feed costs.

Since the global situation became apparent many months ago, the
President said she had been committed "to helping increase and
stabilize the supply of rice, as well as to deliver targeted
subsidies to the poor who are most directly affected by the global
price rises."

"We must work harder to grow and breed what we need. We are going to
cluster our food production drive in six assistance packages, which
are the essential ingredients in making food abundant accessible and
affordable. It is called F-I-E-L-D-S. F is for fertilizer. I is for
irrigation and infrastructure. E is for extension and education. L is
for loans and insurance. D is for dryers and other post-harvest
facilities. S is for seeds," she said.

On fertilizer, President Arroyo said her administration will renew
its call for the use of organic fertilizer as the price of urea
fertilizer being oil-based has increased 200 percent in the last two
years.

"We must set aside P500 million from the ACEF (Agricultural
Comprehensive Enhancement Fund) for fertilizer support and
production, especially for organic fertilizers," she said.

"Specifically, the DA (Department of Agriclture) must utilize proven
technologies like Bio-N to increase the yields of rice farmers in the
current wet season and third crop," she added.

On irrigation and infrastructure, the President directed the National
Irrigation Administration (NIA) to finish the rehabilitation of
irrigation systems by 2010.

"We will spend P6 billion a year on irrigation and P6 billion on
infrastructure, including farm to market roads, roll-on-roll-off
ferry ports, and no-frills airports for agricultural cargo," she
noted.

The President said she recognized the importance of continuous
training of farmers and fisherfolk on new technology.

That's why on extension and education, she instructed the DA to
continuously implement programs and interventions with close
cooperation from the Department of Interior and Local Government
(DILG) and the local government units (LGUs), as well as the
Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

This is aimed at training more trainors and technicians on new
technology for dissemination to farmers; utilize the state
universities and colleges (SUCs) in its extension-related activities;
provide more funds for training of farmers and fisherfolk on new and
emerging technology.

"We will allocate P2 billion in research and development (R&D), P1
billion in capability building, P1 billion in trainors and
technicians and P1 billion in the agricultural and fisheries
education system," she said.

With regards to loans, the President directed Agriculture Secretary
Arthur Yap to study how to maximize bank compliance to the agri-agra
law.

She said some P15 billion will be made available by the government
financial institutions (GFIs) for agricultural credit.

But for farmers to have access to this formal credit, President
Arroyo has called on Congress to enact a law "making farm land
acceptable as loan collateral."

On dryers and other post-harvest facilities, she instructed the DA to
establish appropriate integrated processing and trading centers in
collaboration with the private sector, like the cold chain system and
rice and corn processing centers.

"We will spend P2 billion on this from budget and off-budget
sources," she said.

On seeds, the President said it is the most important support for
seed growers as their success will enable rainfed-lowland areas
presently planted to good seeds to migrate to certified rice seeds
and those planted to certified seeds, to migrate to hybrid seeds.

Around 600,000 hectares this year will be targeted all over the
country for certified seeds, with another 900,000 hectares for hybrid
seeds to be planted by the farmers from 2009-2010.

"We must sustain funding this program which will require P2.7 billion
for hybrid seeds and P6.5 billion for certified seeds for five
harvests from 2009 until 2010," she stressed.

President Arroyo, however, noted that in all these programs, the
government should be "transparent."

"We will work to fix the corruption that still plagues our nation,
including in the agri-business sector. We especially prohibit
officials from dealing with fertilizer brokers and agents. They can
only deal with official distributors in the regions and provinces,"
she noted.

President Arroyo said she is amenable to the proposal of Rep. Baham
Mitra, chairman of the House committee on agriculture, to appoint a
deputy Ombudsman at the DA to watch over its transactions.

"Considering the fact that farm spending may now be bigger than
defense spending, a Deputy Ombudsman may be needed in agriculture,"
she said.

"The appointment of a Deputy Ombudsman will be pursuant to our
transparency initiative. It will also ensure that money is spent
wisely," she added.

The President said that many things are left to be done by her
administration until her term ends in 2010.

"We plan on working hard the next two years to fulfill my Agri-
business Agenda until the day I leave office. We will fight for
economy, including food security, education and the environment," she
concluded. (PNA)

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