Press Release
March 4, 2010

Villar: Release P20-B fund to aid farmers

Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer Manny Villar yesterday called for the immediate release of the P20-billion Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act fund to help ease the plight of farmers affected by the severe dry spell.

"We need to focus on agriculture. Seventy percent of poor Filipinos are engaged in agriculture. We need to work double time on agriculture because the government had been remiss in providing the necessary support," he said during DZBB's presidential interview "Ikaw na Ba?"

"The P20-billion Agriculture Modernization Program budget needs to be released immediately. This is the amount that the agriculture sector should have received but never did. If this amount was released on time, perhaps our farmers could have coped better with El Niño through better post-harvest facilities and more storage areas," Villar said.

He said part of the P20 billion can be used for emergency assistance loans to farmers affected by El Niño.

Villar had earlier emphasized the need for safety nets in the agriculture sector.

"Farmers bear the brunt of the El Niño phenomenon. Part of the safety nets we propose for the agriculture sector is an emergency fund to ease the burden of lost income for farmers resulting from the drought," Villar said.

The NP standard-bearer said the emergency fund should immediately be set up and disbursed to affected areas like Northern Luzon and Mindanao through government financial institutions (GFIs) like the Social Security System and Landbank, as well as accredited cooperatives and NGOs.

At the same time, Villar said these GFIs should also open special lending facilities for affected farmers.

"These lending institutions must be able to provide loans to cover whatever commercial obligations the farmers have incurred as a result of harvest losses from the severe dry conditions under less stringent conditions and more lenient payment terms," he said. The NP standard bearer reiterated that his administration's top priority is poverty alleviation, and the agriculture sector is an important area to consider because it accounts for a large percentage of poor Filipinos.

"Under my presidency, agriculture will get the attention and importance it deserves. First on our list is making agriculture more efficient to be more profitable through the repair of irrigation systems, and building more post-harvest facilities," Villar said.

"We will also improve the transport infrastructure, particularly farm-to-market roads. These will help ensure better supply systems and at the same time increase the yields and profits of farmers," he added.

Agricultural production accounted for about a fifth of the Philippine economic output of $168.6 billion in 2008.

Economists now fear that a severe El Niño may shave off as much as a percentage point off the gross domestic product (GDP), with some analysts revising GDP forecasts from four percent to 3.7 percent.

Of the two million hectares of rice to be planted this year, about 543,844.8 hectares are expected to experience water shortage while 273,411.6 hectares of the 1.114,395 hectares of corn plantations would be affected by the El Niño.

Government data shows that El Niño also threatens around 16,992 hectares of fisheries and 3.804 million metric tons of vegetables.

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