MANILA, DECEMBER 23, 2007 (STAR) Sen. Loren Legarda cited the need to boost agricultural production in 2008 to ensure the country’s food security and help address the problem of poverty in the countryside.

Legarda pointed out that while the agricultural sector accounts for 15 percent of the national gross domestic product (GDP) and nearly 40 percent of employment, 70 percent of the country’s poor reside within agricultural areas.

The senator added that farmers without lands to till dramatize the problems of the agricultural sector, which is also reeling from farm lands being converted into subdivisions and the like.

“As of 2004, the average farm size for every farmer-household is 1.8 hectares and the average annual net inc-ome of a farmer is P16,650,” Legarda said.

“This is only 20 percent of the annual household poverty threshold. Likewise, while the annual incomes of farmers are way below the poverty limit, they could only spare 44 percent for food.”

Legarda said the time has come for the government to really help Filipino farmers, whose hardships are aggravated by having no or very small lands to till, and their difficulty in getting financial assistance to buy fertilizers and seeds.

She said poverty in the Philippines has a distinct face – that of poor farmers and other Filipinos in rural areas, and those struggling in highly urbanized areas.

In her comments on the 2008 national budget at the Senate floor, Legarda cited a “direct causality” between rural growth and reducing mass poverty.

“The World Bank recently shifted its focus on rural development and agricultural investments, to ease the lives of an estimated one billion poor people across the globe,” she said.

“Yet, despite the more than P23 billion budget proposed for agricultural development and modernization for 2008, nagging questions on whether the budget can really uplift the lives of the rural poor and perk up the lethargic rural economy remain.

The senator, founding chairperson of environmental advocacy group Luntiang Pilipinas, railed against the lack of a sustained, comprehensive and adequately funded rice production program in the budget for agriculture.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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