A BILL has been filed in the Senate to encourage farmers to cultivate higher-value crops and raise incomes in the agricultural sector.

Senate Bill No. 1902, or the proposed “Doubling Income of Farmers Act,” calls for free crop insurance, interest-free loans and a freeze on land acquisition payments for farmers seeking to climb the value chain.

The Philippine Statistics Authority estimated in October that 24.5% of the workforce is involved in agriculture, the second-largest share after the services sector, which has 57.2%.

The industry’s growth between 2010-2019 has averaged 1.89%, lagging the overall economy.

“The sluggish growth experienced by the agricultural sector has resulted in farmers being the poorest sector in the country,” Senator Maria Imelda Josefa R. Marcos said in the bill’s explanatory note.

Citing the 2018 Family and Income Expenditure Survey, she said farmers had the highest poverty incidence of any occupation with a rate of 31.6%.

She said the bill supports the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) policy of improving farmer incomes via modernization, industrialization, farm consolidation and export promotion.

Other planks of the policy are infrastructure development, government spending, and legislative support.

The bill will also establish the Agricultural Export Promotion Council, tasked to guide implementation of programs for the production of high-value crops.

The council’s brief includes strengthening research into high-value crops within the DA, the Department of Science and Technology and state universities and colleges, while establishing support for strategic export promotion.

It also requires the DA and the trade department to set up programs incentivizing innovation to attract more investment in high-value crops.

The bill provides for the consolidation of farmer associations and cooperatives into federations and sets a legal framework for agribusiness venture agreements, such as joint ventures, leases, and service and management contracts between producers and their buyers.

The bill will set aside P500 million from the DA budget to the Agriculture Development Fund, which may also be funded via borrowing from domestic and international financial institutions. — Charmaine A. Tadalan