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(Speech delivered by Senator Cynthia Villar during the inaugural rites of the NTA AgriPinoy Tobacco Farmers Food Processing and Trading Center, in Nanguneg, Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, October 30, 2013.)

Food security, high incomes for farmers tops in agri sector

I am happy to be here with all of you today to witness and be part of the launch of a multi-million food processing facility here in Barangay Nanguneg na bunga ng Agri Pinoy Program at Public-Private Partnership Scheme ni President Noynoy Aquino. Natutuwa ako dahil alam ko na ito ay magpapalawig pa ng agri-business sa lalawigan ng Ilocos Sur at karatig-bayan at magbibigay ng livelihood opportunities sa ating mga tobacco farmers.

Nalaman ko rin na hindi lamang ang mga tobacco farmers ang mabibigyan ng oportunidad, pati na rin ang kanilang mga anak. That is really good, it will encourage the younger generations to get involved in farming too, side by side with their parents.

I commend the National Tobacco Administration for recruiting technical graduates from the technical colleges and university as the initial work force of this facility and prioritizing tobacco farmers' children, who are graduates of agri-technology and related courses. That is really a good start.

As this food facility is equipped with equipment that can process vegetables and meat, this would allow our local food producers to cater to the high-quality demand particularly in the global markets.

I have recently been to Cologne, Germany and attended the Anuga Food Fair there. I saw for myself how advanced the food industry has become and with all of you, it is my hope that our country will keep pace with the fast-paced developments, especially in technology. We have a huge potential to compete head on with the rest of the world.

Personally, I believe that science and technology, particularly research and development (R&D) play a really significant role in the success of projects and programs. I came to this belief or conviction based on my own experiences.

One of my biggest realizations when I was establishing one livelihood enterprise after another is the important and crucial role that technology plays. In fact, I would say that the equipment and technology we use is the secret to the success of my livelihood programs. I believe that technological innovation and relevant R&D can also propel the agriculture sector to greater heights.

It is good that our government gives priority to R&D and technological innovation also. Naisabatas na natin ang Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA) o Republic Act (RA) 8435. AFMA calls for the allocation of at least P20 billion a year for agriculture modernization-related programs and projects.

Ang Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) for R.A 10601 or the Agriculture and Fisheries Mechanization Law (AFMECH) ay tapos na rin at talagang tututukan natin ang implementasyon niyan para mas maging competitive ang ating mga magsasaka at mangingisda at iba pang industriya na nakatali sa agrikultura.

AFMECH will promote the development and adoption of modern, appropriate, cost-effective and environmentally safe agricultural and fisheries machinery and equipment to enhance farm productivity and efficiency to achieve food security and increase farmers' income.

The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) has acknowledged also that we need to invest in R & D, and that we can increase the productivity of agriculture and boost job creation in the industry through science and technology. This is expected to fast-track the growth in the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (AFF) sector.

We really need to improve the global competitiveness of our farmers and the country's agriculture sector as a whole. The country's integration to the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in two years' time (in 2015) will bring about cutthroat competition, thus we have to be globally competitive.

ASEAN is moving towards standardizing practices and food safety systems such as adoption of Good Agriculture Practices, Good Aquaculture Practices, Good Animal Husbandry Practices, Good Hygiene Practices, Good Manufacturing Practices, and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point or HACCP-based systems among others.

Marami pa po tayong kailangan asikasuhin at trabahuhin. Lagi ko pong sinasabi na ako ay natutuwa dahil nakuha ko ang chairmanship ng Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food because I believe I can make a positive difference here. And that difference will accrue to a significant number of Filipinos. The Philippines, after all, is an agricultural country.

We are an agricultural country and majority of our people are in agriculture-related jobs and businesses. A third of the Philippine population can be found in agriculture living on one-tenth of the national gross domestic product (GDP). Close to half of farm households live in absolute poverty. For the rural poor, including small farmers and landless farm workers, getting access to adequate nutritious and healthy food is a daily struggle.

The agriculture sector deserves top priority. I really believe that the agriculture sector will be able to generate more revenues for the Philippines, if it will be backed by adequate budget and effective programs. We need to help Filipino farmers to be more productive and globally competitive.

Under the Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016, food security and raising incomes of the farmers are the agriculture sector's ultimate goals. At itong facility na ito at ang iba pa nating ginagawa at gagawin ay iyan ang ultimate goal—ang masiguro ang sapat na pagkain para sa bawat Pilipino at maiangat ang antas ng pamumuhay ng ating mga magsasaka. Kasama na dyan ang gawing globally competitive ang ating mga produkto.

On that note, maraming salamat sa pakikinig. Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat!