AGRICULTURE Secretary William D. Dar said that there were no problems with the availability of food during the pandemic, but acknowledged that affordability was an issue for the poor and other Filipinos whose livelihoods were disrupted by the public health crisis.

“There was notably no food shortage, despite the pandemic. There were no food lines, like what is happening now in Sri Lanka,” Mr. Dar said during the Philippine Economic Briefing on Tuesday.

“We then realized that hunger was caused more by poverty and inability to buy food than food supply deficiency,” he added.

Sri Lanka is facing currently protests over food and fuel shortages, the government of Sri Lanka has responded with a curfew and restrictions on social media.

Mr. Dar said that the succeeding administration must pursue its own projects with an eye towards improving productivity and achieving sustainability.

“Philippine agriculture has a lot to make up for in significantly increasing productivity and achieving food security. We do this through a food systems approach, or making all aspects of governance and the economy work to assure food security,” Mr. Dar said.

“The task now is to cultivate continuity in our services. The next President will have a tough road ahead,” he added.

Mr. Dar said he recommended increasing the funding devoted to agriculture to a level at par with the region.

“Our ASEAN neighbors allot 4% to 5% of their national budgets to agriculture. Based on our annual national budget, we are only at 1.7%,” he said.

“We continue the call for significant budgetary support, about triple the current budget, to realize gains over and beyond,” he added.

Apart from increasing the budget, Mr. Dar said that the next leadership team should invest in technology, as well as the completion of key agricultural infrastructure projects such as farm to market roads and agri-industrial business corridors.

“We strongly recommend fast-tracking farm consolidation, an inevitable, modernizing pillar in our reform agenda. We badly need economies of scale denied by the fragmentation of agricultural land,” he said.

“A food sovereign status puts the Philippines on track to becoming a competitive player in world trade. We are professionalizing the sector because we really need competent and technically trained human resource managing increasingly scarce agricultural resources. We hope the next leadership will be generous with training programs, scholarships, funding for youth engagement, and tailored credit programs with friendly terms to encourage additional sectoral participation in agribusiness,” he added. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson