Keynote Speech of PGMA During the National Food Summit

Friday, April 04, 2008
Fontana Convention Center, Clark Air Base

A strong and growing economy is the central pillar we have labored to create to help guarantee peace, order and stability in our country. It is paying off: we have the strongest economy in over 30 years, a strong peso, with investments surging in, and we are close to balancing the budget.

Our economic comeback comes none too soon, for there are global clouds on the horizon that are driving up the price of oil and food, particularly rice.

Half of the planet depends on rice but stocks are at their lowest since the mid1970s 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.

For the last seven years we have been spending P 20 billion a year from budget and off-budget sources on Philippine Agriculture.

Since the global situation became apparent many months ago, I have 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 have reached out to our neighbors in Vietnam and others in ASEAN to ensure stable rice supplies. We have directed our government to crack down on price gouging; increase the supply of rice where necessary; invest more in planting and agricultural modernization; and to provide rice subsidies for our poor. I have delivered rice to the poor and gone to markets across the country to spot-check prices to protect our consumers.

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 FIELDS – 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.

On fertilizer, we will renew our push for organic fertilizer because 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 fund for fertilizer support and production, especially for organic fertilizers. Specifically, the DA must utilize proven technologies like Bio-N to increase the yields of rice farmers in the current wet season and third crop.

On irrigation and infrastructure, I direct NIA to finish the rehabilitation of irrigation systems by 2010. On new construction, we encourage small irrigations systems, except for the large ones we have already committed to, like Kabulnan, Balintingon, Malmar and San Roque. 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.

On extension and education, we recognize the importance of continuous training of farmers and fisherfolk on new technology. I instruct the DA to continuously implement programs and interventions with close cooperation from the DILG and the LGUs, as well as the DOST, aimed at training more trainors and technicians on new technology for dissemination to farmers; utilize the 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, P1 billion in capability building, P1 billion in trainors and technicians and P1 billion in the agricultural and fisheries education system.

On loans, I direct Secretary Yap to study how to maximize bank compliance to the agri-agra law. Meanwhile, the government financial institutions can assure P15 billion available for agricultural credit. But for farmers to have access to all this formal credit, I ask Congress to enact a law making farm land acceptable as loan collateral.

On dryers and other post-harvest facilities, I instruct 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.

On seeds, the most important is to support the seed growers. 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. Some 600,000 hectares this year will be targeted all over the country for certified seeds, with another 900,000 hectares for hybrid seeds planted by our 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 5 harvests from 2009 until 2010.

In all these programs, we must 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.

The DA, NFA and NBI shall strictly monitor rice deliveries and investigate cases of hoarding, price manipulation and other illegal activities. We are holding officials accountable that have found to be corrupt and conniving with unscrupulous traders; we are letting the chips fall where they may as investigations are concluded and friend and foe alike and brought to account for their actions.

I have directed the DA and NFA to cancel the existing licenses of rice traders, retailers and bodegas. They have to apply all over again for accreditation.

According to Congressman Baham Mitra, Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, the DA cannot watch over all transactions. According to him, RA 6670 gives power to appoint more Deputy Ombudsmen. In 1990 such deputy was appointed for the military. Considering the fact that farm spending may now be bigger than defense spending, a Deputy Ombudsman may be needed in agriculture. The appointment of a Deputy Ombudsman will be pursuant to our transparency initiative. It will also ensure that money is spent wisely.

Many things are left to be done. 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. We remain bullish on our country, optimistic about our future and deeply committed to being a force for good.

In all of these, an HONEST and CORRUPTION-FREE implementation is the most important factor that will make the real difference.

"...We are holding officials accountable that have found to be corrupt and conniving with unscrupulous traders; we are letting the chips fall where they may as investigations are concluded and friend and foe alike and brought to account for their actions."

The Lord will teach and test you on this matter. When you pass and succeed on this area, you will gain the strength needed to tackle the bigger matters in other areas of your governance where corruption is prevalent.