Dar: Shortage of fish, pork, rice still persists

Agriculture Secretary William Dar on Tuesday said there is still a shortage in the local production of fish, pork, and rice due in part to years of neglect of agriculture.

A worker arranges trays of eggs at a store in Blumentritt Market in Sta Cruz Manila on Tuesday, May 31, 2022. The United Broilers Raisers Association (UBRA) Chairman Gregorio San Diego Jr. said the increase in the country’s egg production is already causing problems for producers. He said that because of the declining demand for chicken, a lot of commercial producers ventured into egg production, pushing the supply higher to the detriment of the small producers. Danny Pata

In an interview on GMA-7, Dar said there was still a scarcity in fish and pork, and rice levels were only at 92 percent.

“Local production is not enough,” he said.

Speaking of the low priority given to agriculture, Dar said the Philippines only allots 1.5 percent of its budget to the sector while other countries dedicate 3.5 percent to 6 percent of their budget.

Dar said the incoming administration of President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will inherit an agriculture sector that has been “underbudgeted, and neglected all these 30 years.”

“It’s gasping for breath, and we need sizable budgetary support to make it possible to really now unlock the potential of Philippine agriculture,” said Dar, who was appointed DA chief in 2019.

“I would’ve been much happier if agriculture would have been properly budgeted,” he added.

Dar, a vocal supporter of Marcos Jr., has consistently said he is willing to serve under the incoming administration.

“If offered, I am there to serve this incoming leadership. If given the chance,” he said.

But the United Broiler Raisers Association (UBRA) on Sunday expressed concerns about the prospect of Dar’s reappointment.

In an interview on radio dzBB, UBRA Chairman Gregorio San Diego said local farmers, particularly the smaller ones, were concerned about the government’s importation of agricultural products from other countries, which has affected their cost of production.

The DA’s mandate is to nurture and improve local agriculture and not importers, he said.

He said he hoped the next administration would better support local farmers.

“We had hoped the next Agriculture secretary would care about local farmers,” he said in Filipino.

UBRA President Elias Jose Inciong said that the farmers were in “a very difficult situation” when someone like Dar was serving as secretary.

Also on Tuesday, the Department of the Trade and Industry (DTI) and the DA urged the House of Representatives to pass a bill institutionalizing the interagency Sub Task Group on Economic Intelligence (STGEI) to go after profiteers, price manipulators, hoarders and smugglers.

During the House committee on agriculture and food’s hearing on the perennial problem of agricultural commodity smuggling, DTI Undersecretary Ruth Castelo and Dar said the subtask group is crucial to pursuing agricultural intelligence on smuggling.

The subtask group consists of the DA, in collaboration with the DTI and other related government agencies.

However, Dar and Castelo pointed out that the subtask group is only temporary with insufficient personnel and funding.

“This started last year when we created the IATF (Inter Agency Task Force) on Food Security and the establishment of this STGEI is part of it. The [STGEI] has no regular budget, even the department has no regular budget for anti-smuggling (campaigns),” Dar said.

The STGEI was created to run after unscrupulous traders, viajeros, and wholesalers, who have proven to have manipulated prices of hogs and pork, hovering at more than P400 per kilogram that persisted even beyond the 2020 Christmas season.

Castelo, who is part of the STGEI, told the House panel that the body seized a total of P600 million worth of smuggled agricultural products during at least 17 operations since it was formed last year.

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