27th South Luzon Area Business Conference (SOLABC)

Maraming salamat sa Albay Chamber of Commerce and Industry sa imbitasyon sa akin, para maging bahagi ng event na ito, ang 27th South Luzon Area Business Conference (SOLABC). I am glad to be here with all of you. Alam nyo naman na basta usaping agrikultura ay interesado ako at prayoridad ko.

First of all, I just would like to say na dito sa South Luzon Area covering Regions IV A and B, Calabarzon at Mimaropa, at syempre ang Region V (Bicol), ay thriving at masigla talaga ang agriculture sector. I am not just saying that because kaharap ko kayo.

I think, kailangan lang naman talaga na maging prayoridad ang agriculture sa inyong mga areas dahil maituturing na agricultural areas ang mga ito. At napaka-ideal sa agricultural activities and ventures ang inyong mga respective areas. So, you all should focus on the further growth and development of agriculture. At natutuwa ako, na iyan nga ang inyong collective goal. So suportado ko kayo dyan.

Anyway, reducing poverty and ensuring sustainable countryside or rural development by strengthening the agricultural sector are really my own goals and advocacies also. And I am confident that the collaboration of the organizations present here as well as the government departments and agencies, we can together create a positive impact in the lives of our fellow Filipinos, especially in South Luzon.

Hangad natin na mabawasan ng mga programa at mga proyekto natin ang poverty incidence sa rural areas na isa pa rin sa mga challenges that we have to contend with in our country. Two of the key poverty-linked issues confronting the country are income poverty and poverty in rural areas (where most of the farmers and agricultural workers are). The Asian Development Bank (ADB), in one of its reports, cited that two of the causes of poverty in the country are weakness in employment generation and the quality of jobs generated; and failure to fully develop the agriculture sector.

According to ADB: “Poverty remains a mainly rural phenomenon, though urban poverty is also on the rise. The majority of the poor are still found in rural areas and in the agriculture sector, primarily as farmers and fisherfolks.”

About half of the country’s population lives in rural areas, where poverty is also most pronounced and widespread.  And agriculture is the primary and often the only source of income for poor rural people, many of whom depend on subsistence farming and fishing for their livelihoods.

Ayon din International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), “the poorest of the poor are the indigenous peoples, small-scale farmers who cultivate land received through agrarian reform, landless workers, fishers, people in upland areas and women. At iyan naman talaga ang mga taong involved rin sa agrikultura, hindi ba? Kaya malaki talaga ang poverty incidence sa agriculture sector.

Ang talagang mga barriers sa paggiging competitive at profitable ng Filipino farmers and fisherfolks ay ang lack of technical expertise, mechanization, financial literacy at access to cheap credit. At ang mga iyan ang isa-isa natin binubuwag.

We really need to improve the global competitiveness of our farmers and the country’s agriculture sector as a whole especially since, as I cited earlier, because of the regional economic integration under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), competition is now more intense.

Bilang kasalukuyang chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, tuloy-tuloy lang ang pagsulong ng mga panukalang batas na makapagbibigay ng kinakailangang reforms at kaakibat na benepisyo sa mga Pilipinong magsasaka at mga mangingisda at sa lahat ng tinatawag na mga stakeholders o involved sa agriculture, kasama rin ang mga agricultural workers at ang mga agri-entrepreneurs.

In all the bills I have authored for the agricultural sectors, that have been passed into law, I made sure that there is an allocation of adequate funds to provide for research and development, further education or training of farmers, fisherfolks and agricultural workers. Through further training and education also, farmers are learning new methods of doing things as well as new equipment to help them.

Coconut farmers for example, are now aware that by merely intercropping coconut with other crops such as coffee or cacao, they could earn PhP10,000 a month. Moreover, if they plant using the new variety of coconut seedlings, their nut harvest can triple from 40 nuts per tree to 150 nuts per tree.

As for the rice farmers, if they use the inbred seedlings of our Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), they can increase their production from  four metric tons per hectare (4MT/ha) to six metric tons (6MT/ha), which will make our country self-sufficient in rice. And it would also double the income of rice farmers.

There are eight million crop farmers sa ating bansa, 3.5 million of them are coconut farmers and another 3.5 million are rice farmers. So, if we can lift them out of poverty, nasolusyonan na natin ang poverty problem ng ating bansa.  Kaya ituloy lang natin ang pagtulong at suporta sa mga magsasaka, mangingisda as well as mga agricultural workers at agri-entrepreneurs. Lalong lalo na ang mga pamilyang magsasaka.

Sa mga family farmers dito, huwag ninyong mamaliitin ang inyong kontribusyon at papel na ginagampanan. Dahil napakaimportante ninyo. Nakasalalay sa inyo at inyong mga family farms ang food security nating lahat, at hindi sa mga corporate farms.

Ang mga family farms ang inaaasahan namin na magpapakain sa aming lahat ngayon at ang mga susunod pang henerasyon. Kaya dapat huwag tumigil ang mga pamilyang Pilipino sa pagsasaka at huwag ninyo iiwan ang inyong mga farms, dahil pag nangyari iyon,  pagdating ng araw ay baka wala na tayong makakain. Kawawa naman din ang mga apo natin kapag nagkataon.

Isa pang good news na masaya kong ibinabalita sa inyo, ay ang pag-apruba namin ngayong buwan lang ng batas creating the almost PhP100-billion coconut levy trust fund. Ilang dekada rin hinintay iyan ng mga 3.5 million coconut farmers sa ating bansa. Pasado na po finally ang Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Act.  It is among the priority legislative measures pushed by President Rodrigo Duterte during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) noong isang buwan.

The fund will be managed by the reconstituted Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) which will be composed of four representatives from the government (one each from the PCA, Department of Finance, Department of Agriculture, Department of Budget and Management); one coconut industry stakeholder; and six representatives from coconut farmers (two representatives each from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao).

Nai-file ko na rin ang accompanying bill na magre-reconstitute sa PCA. Kaya tapos ang paghihintay ng mga magniniyog,mapapakinabangan na nila ang pondong para sa kanila talaga.  Taon-taon, PhP5 billion ang amount na gagastusin mula sa coco levy fund yearly.

The PhP5 billion fund will be spent for the following programs: shared facilities, 30%; scholarship program, 15%; empowerment of coconut farmer organization and their cooperatives, 15%; farm improvement to encourage self-sufficiency, 30%; and health and medical benefits, 10%.

That fund is separate from the automatic appropriation of PhP10 billion to the annual budget of the PCA na galing sa national budget for the development of the coconut industry. The PhP10 billion will be earmarked for the following programs: infrastructure, 20%; planting, replanting and establishment of nurseries, 20%; intercropping, 10%; shared facilities, 20%; research and development, disease control and eradication, 10%; fertilization, 5%; new products and derivatives of cococut oil products, 5%; and credit through LandBank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines, 10%.

At syempre, I am sure, nabalitaan na rin ninyo na naipasa na rin namin ang free irrigation law. For the first time in our country’s history, irrigation is now free for farmers. I am the primary author of the Free Irrigation Service to Small Farmers Act of 2017 or Senate Bill 1465.

Libre na ang irrigation services for small farmers or those with eight hectares or below. So ang maliliit na mga magsasaka talaga ang makikinabang dyan, lalo na ang ating tinatawag na mga family farmers na susi sa food security ng ating bansa.

Among the other bills I have passed into law is Republic Act (RA) 10848 or the act extending the period of implementation of the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund up to year 2022. Noong 2010 kasi, ang mga ACEF loans and grants ay ipinahinto due to collection issues. ACEF was supposed to expire on December of 2015 and we successfully passed the extension of the ACEF law. Ang ACEF kasi ay malaki ang maitutulong para magkaroon kayo, ang mga farmers, ng access, hindi lang sa mga training or education opportunities. Pati na rin sa pag-modernize at mechanize ng inyong mga existing facilities at farms.

Eighty per cent (80%) of the (ACEF) fund will be in the form of credit with minimal interest, which shall not exceed five million pesos per project loan to cooperatives; and maximum of one million pesos to small farmers. For the remainder of the fund of 20 percent—ten percent (10%) will be extended as grants for research and development (R&D) of agricultural and fishery products, and the commercialization of such, including the upgrading of research facilities, of qualified state universities and colleges (SUCs); and ten percent (10%) will be used for the funding of scholarships for agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and veterinary medicine education, to be implemented by the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd).

Ang isa pang agricultural law na marami ng  natutulungan sa inyong mga respective areas ay ang Farm Tourism Development Law or Republic Act (RA) 10816.  Dahil sa farm tourism law, maraming mga maliliit na mga magsasaka ang na-convert na ang kanilang farms— kahit gaano pa ito kaliit— into a farm tourism site.

Many of them are now managing their farms as a business. It has become a win-win situation for them—they farm, they accept tourists or visitors to their farms and for those who have a school or learning site, they can also accept trainees/students. So, that’s three sources of income. And they do not even have to leave their farms.

Ang pagtatayo ng mga farm schools or learning sites ay isa sa mga provisions sa Farm Tourism Development Law. To show that I practice what I preach and to lead by example, I have also put up two farm schools under the Villar Social Institute for Poverty Alleviation and Governance (Villar SIPAG).  We conduct training not only for farmers, farmer beneficiaries and even some agriculturists, but any individual or group of people who are interested on agriculture. And everyone should be interested in agriculture dahil nga ang ating bansa ay isang agricultural country.

I also encourage farmers, fisherfolks and agricultural workers to become agri-entrepreneurs. I really believe that agri-business is one of the long-term solutions in growing the agriculture sector. Agri-entrepreneurs can join the ranks of micro and small enterprise, which comprise majority of the businesses in our country and provide over 65 per cent of employment.

Sa ngayon, about 50 percent ng mga enterprises na yan ay involved sa mga food and beverage businesses. Kaya, gusto natin maturuan at ma-guide ang mga magsasaka at farm owners na mag-negosyo para ma-tap ang mga business opportunities. We should also extend support through capacity-building strategies and approaches to get them into agri-business and to make them more competent and competitive in it. Again, education and training ang solusyon, which I have cited earlier already.

As it is, malaki na ang competitive advantage natin sa agriculture dahil isang agricultural country ang ating bansa. The vast arable lands in the Philippines offer boundless opportunities for the production of various agricultural commodities such as high-value crops (rice, vegetables, fruits etc), pulses (mongo, corn etc), among others.

Sa mga pinagsama-sama nating mga initiatives at efforts, we can bring back the so-called glory days of agriculture. Rest assured na patuloy rin akong magsusulong ng mga panukalang batas na mabebenepisyohan ang sektor at lalong lalo na kayong mga involved sa agrikultura. I will continue to pursue legislations that will complement the actions and programs of the government departments and the local government units.

So, as in the past, let us continue working together para sa ating mga kababayan. We cannot do it alone, kailangan talaga ay partners tayong lahat. Napakarami pang kailangan at pwede pang gawin para sa ikauunlad natin at ng ating bayan, so ang mga iyun ang patuloy natin pagtuunan ng pansin at panahon. Maraming salamat!