Congress tackles food, agriculture budget

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — On Tuesday (August 25), lawmakers scrutinized the proposed P53.39 billion 2016 budget of the Department of Agriculture (DA), including the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization (PAFSAM).

The proposal is P1.35 billion or 2.6 percent higher than the agency's 2015 budget.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and Presidential Assistant for Food Security Francis Pangilinan answered questions from lawmakers.

The biggest chunk of the DA budget will go to maintenance and other operating expenses, which costs P30.3 billion.

In the PAFSAM budget, the National Irrigation Administration takes the lion's share with P32.74 billion.

The El Niño phenomenon is likely to intensify until the last quarter of this year and may last until early 2016.

The DA will increase irrigated areas, focusing on small-scale irrigation projects.

It also wants to boost the development and promotion of climate resilient rice varieties.

In food security, more investments will go to farm to market roads from the present 3,000 km.

Lawmakers asked why there is a need for huge rice importation. They also want to know why the DA is underspending.

Alcala explained that imported rice serves as buffer stock, because local production is insufficient and vulnerable to natural disasters, as well as lack of irrigation.

He said rice self sufficiency is now at 96%.

CNN Philippines' Patricia de Leon contributed to this report.