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Full-time agriculture secretary needed – Poe

Cecille Suerte Felipe, Bella Cariaso - The Philippine Star
Full-time agriculture secretary needed � Poe
President Marcos has held the agriculture portfolio since taking office in June 2022 as part of his commitment to prioritize the sector.
The STAR / Geremy Pintolo

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines needs a full-time agriculture secretary after India recently announced plans to halt exports of non-basmati rice to the global market, according to Sen. Grace Poe.

President Marcos has held the agriculture portfolio since taking office in June 2022 as part of his commitment to prioritize the sector.

“May we suggest he appoint a full-time agriculture secretary? A farmer-in-chief, perhaps?” Poe said in her privilege speech on Tuesday.

“We were promised P20 per kilo of rice during (Marcos’ presidential) campaign. The cheapest is now P36 per kilo. I hope that famine will not overtake us without a proper plan,” she added.

Poe noted that the Philippines has imported 10,045 metric tons of rice from India, “but this does not exclude us from the collateral impact of their decision.”

“Non-basmati rice accounts for roughly 81.2 percent of India’s total rice exports. This is the category subject to their ban. This means that, in one fell swoop, India has created a 17.86 million metric ton shortage in the global rice market. Those who will fill that gap can certainly charge a premium,” she explained.

Poe said that Vietnam, which supplies more than 90 percent of the country’s rice imports, increased its price to $600 per metric ton.

“We should be climate-proofing and disaster-proofing our rice fields. We need to adopt variants that can survive the drier days to come. El Niño, after all, is just around the corner. We also need an outpouring of support for our farmers in technology and funds or value chain integration,” she added.

Poe hopes the Department of Agriculture (DA)’s proposed 2024 budget “will not only get bigger but be spent faster on the things which our rice farmers need to succeed.”

In the latest Social Weather Stations survey, three out of every 10 Filipinos are “food poor” or unable to buy enough food, according to Poe.

The Philippines is only 81.5 percent rice self-sufficient according to the Philippine Statistics Authority, she added.

Onions

Meanwhile, more public officials should be charged for the suspected irregularities in the procurement of onions sold at Kadiwa stores, according to farmers’ groups.

“We are not privy to the details of the deal involving Food Terminal Inc. (FTI) and Bonena Cooperative. We just hope that the investigation will lead to those truly culpable be charged accordingly... We are looking forward to other investigations... that will identify and charge those in government that are in cahoots with smugglers, hoarders and profiteers,” Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura executive director Jayson Cainglet said on Wednesday.

“The investigation of officials involved in smuggling of agriculture should cover not only the DA but also the Customs, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Plant Indusrtry. It should not stop with the suspension of officials. Charges should be filed against those involved and necessary penalties should be imposed,” said Bantay Bigas spokesperson Cathy Estavillo.

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