DA welcomes solons' inputs on agribusiness deals with China
Manila (24 September) -- Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap welcomed calls by legislators for Government to ensure that the rights of agrarian reform beneficiaries are protected under the framework agreements forged between the Philippines and China on harnessing idle or underutilized farmlands for agribusiness development.
Yap said the Department of Agriculture will coordinate closely with the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and of Agrarian Reform (DA) to determine how these framework deals could be fine-tuned to incorporate the concerns aired by members of Congress.
At the recent hearing of the proposed 2008 DA budget before the Subcommittee of the House of Representatives jointly chaired by Representatives Nur Jaafar and Abraham Khalil Mitra, Yap acknowledged valid concerns raised by legislators over these agreements, which, he said, merely contain the "outline" or basic structure on ways to further strengthen agricultural cooperation between the Philippines and China.
"We are more than willing to go back to our Chinese counterparts and alert them to certain specific concerns raised by the lawmakers. As we've explained, these are framework agreements and I don't think Chinese officials will pose any grave objections when we bring these matters to their attention," said Yap.
Yap likewise assured the Congress leaders that these framework agreements will definitely take into consideration the country's food security.
He pointed out that these framework agreements were written in consultation with the DENR and the DA, which could both provide a more detailed background on how the provisions in these deals were reached. He added, the DA's role was limited to just helping identify the idle and underutilized lands that could be tapped for agribusiness development by Chinese investors.
Yap said that as one of the signatories to these framework contracts, he had insisted that the potential Chinese investors should "legally comply" with Philippine laws with respect to whatever provisions are spelled out in the agreements.
As suggested by members of the House, Yap said he has submitted to the DENR and the DAR a draft of a joint circular that would call for more extensive public consultations on these framework deals.
Yap also welcomed the suggestion of Akbayan party-list Rep. Riza Hontiveros - Baraquel to include the participation of farmers as one of the consultative parties to the projects covered by these framework agreements.
Under these agreements, Chinese investors, Yap noted, would be developing crops that the Philippines still imports. "Thus, we believe that if they do invest here, they will add to the production volume and sufficiency of those crops in the local market."
"In the joint circular that we are preparing, we have provided a paragraph that reads that food security shall be the priority at all times," Yap noted.
Earlier, Yap explained in a news forum that of the 18 agriculture-related contracts that were forged during the visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao to the Philippines last January, only four were signed directly by the DA and the People's Republic of China on a government-to-government basis.
"These documents have nothing to do with any procurement. We are neither selling nor leasing outómuch less segregatingólands for special classification, under these contracts and I believe that this will not defeat the purpose of the CARP" Yap said..
As for the rest of the agreements, Yap said these are private transactions that the DA, DAR and DENR have helped facilitate in line with the Arroyo administration's efforts to make farming more profitable for farmers and other small agricultural stakeholders and to open for agribusiness development our idle or underutilized farmlands.
Yap noted that although Philippine agriculture accounts for almost a fifth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), only 5% of the total loans generated by commercial banks go to this critical sector. "Local capital is either not enough or has proven to be elusive to the agricultural sector, which is why the country need foreign investors to help develop millions of hectares of its idle lands," he added.
The DA secretary said that on top of distributing lands to farmers, the government also needs to pump more capital into irrigation systems, postharvest facilities, farm inputs and research and extension programs to make the lands they till more productive and enable them to reap greater profits.
Farmers should also be given more access to rural credit and provided assistance in opening more markets for their produce here and abroad to raise their incomes and secure a more stable future for their families, he said. (PIA) [top]