Agricultural chief defends importation of sugar, fish

Catherine Talavera - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Agriculture Secretary William Dar is defending the government’s move to allow the importation of fish and sugar, saying  the decisions were based on data showing projected supply deficiencies in the commodities.

In a Laging Handa public briefing yesterday, Dar said  the country has generally sufficient supply of food, except for some commodities that are projected to have supply gaps in the first quarter such as fish and sugar.

He said  the Department of Agriculture (DA) derives these supply projections by monitoring historical data on self-sufficiency levels of basic commodities, in coordination with the Philippine Statistics Authority and data managers in the agriculture sector.

“Galunggong (round scad) is the problem, and I will also include the impact of Typhoon Odette which lowered sugar production, “Dar said.

The DA earlier approved the issuance of certificates of necessity to import 60,000 metric tons (MT) of small pelagic fishes for the first quarter.

More recently, the board of the Sugar Regulatory Administration approved the importation of 200,000 MT of refined sugar due to the projected tightness of supply at the end of the milling season.

However, a regional trial court in Negros Occidental issued a 20-day temporary restraining order againts the importation order.

“All of our decisions are based on the deficiency and gap that we cannot produce locally.

That is ensuring food security. We are still a net importing country,” Dar said.

Both sugar producing and fisherfolk groups slammed the government’s move to allow the importation of the commodities, saying it will further hurt local producers already suffering from higher input costs due to the rising prices of fertilizers and fuel.

In addition, the National Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council even opposed the government’s data projections, saying  there is no need to import as there is sufficient supply of fish in the first quarter.

Dar said that while everybody wants to support a 100 percent self-sufficient agriculture sector,  the country does not have the budgetary resources to do so.

He reiterated the need for more budgetary support for the agriculture sector to be able to boost production in the local sector and to provide more interventions to make farmers and fisherfolks more competitive.

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