CamSur Business Expo—Bicol Agri Summit

Maraming salamat sa Camarines Sur Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. (CSCCI) at sa  Provincial Government of Camarines Sur sa imbitasyon upang maging bahagi ng event na ito na parte ng CamSur Business Expo— ang Bicol Agri Summit.

Alam nyo naman na basta usaping agrikultura aty prayoridad ko. 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.

Ang isa sa mga iyan na masaya kong ibinabalita sa inyong dito kung saan marami ang mga magniniyog, 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.

Isa pang good news, para naman sa mga rice farmers ay naipasa na ribn 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 at marami rin dito sa Maasin 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 makakatulong din dito sa Pili at sa buong Camarines Sur 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.

We need to make our farmers and fisherfolks more competent, so they can be more competitive. Based on studies, among the barriers that keep them from being more profitable and competitive are lack of technical expertise, lack of mechanization, lack of access to cheap credit at financial literacy. I have been focusing on removing those barriers.

Kaya naman, in all the bills I have authored for the fisheries, sugar and other 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, 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.

Rest assured that your local and provincial government at kami rin sa National Government, lalo na ang inyong lingkod sa Senado ay tuloy-tuloy ang paghanap ng paraan para umunlad kayo, para rin sa ikauunlad ng ating bansa. On that note, maraming salamat ulit at more power to all of you!