By Noemi Reyes

PRIORITIES. Newly appointed Department of Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. (left) discusses the agency’s priorities, foremost of which is to bring down the price of rice, during a press conference at the DA auditorium in Diliman, Quezon City on Monday (Nov. 6, 2023). Joined by Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban, he also vowed to make the country less dependent on importation and to protect small farmers and fisherfolk. (PNA photo by Ben Briones)

MANILA – Newly appointed Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. on Monday said he plans to go around the country to better assess the situation of farmers and fisherfolk.

In a press briefing after the flag ceremony at the DA headquarters in Quezon City, Laurel said the DA under his helm will step up efforts to increase food production and modernize the agricultural sector.

“Sa mga susunod na araw iikot po ako sa halos lahat ng probinsya at kakausapin ko diretso ang mga farmer and fishermen. Gusto kong marinig ng personal kung ano ‘yung kailangan nila, ano ‘yung hinaing nila at ano ‘yung nakikita nilang vision nila. Gusto kong makita ang kalagayan nila (In the coming days in almost every province, I will directly talk to the farmers and fishermen. I want to personally listen to their needs, their complaints, and their vision. I want to know their situation),” he said.

Laurel said the marching order of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. is to modernize agriculture with the goal of achieving food security, reducing import dependence, and lift millions of farmers and fisherfolk out of poverty by the end of his term in 2028.

“By modernizing the agriculture sector, we could make it a more profitable venture and attract a younger generation that would ensure the country’s food security in the decades to come,” Laurel said.

Aside from boosting food production and modernization, Laurel emphasized the need to address alleged price manipulation and smuggling to ensure stable supply and prices.

He said the DA will coordinate and work closely with relevant law enforcement agencies to apprehend and prosecute those engaged in illegal trade.

Laurel called for unity and cooperation in the agricultural community to achieve their shared targets.

“I’m ready to work but I can’t do this alone. I need your full cooperation and teamwork for us to achieve our targets,” he said.

Asked whether rice production is main priority, Laurel said while rice is the country’s staple food, there are other equally important sectors like livestock, poultry, fisheries and high value crops that require government attention and support.

Meanwhile, the peasants’ group Kilusan Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan (Katarungan) laid down their expectations from the new DA chief.

In an interview, Katarungan Secretary-General Danny Carranza said they are hoping Laurel will be able address major problems in agriculture such as “adequate and appropriate support services for the farmers, infrastructure, marketing links, and processing for value addition.”

Agriculture accounts for about 10 percent of the Philippine economy and employing one in every four Filipinos. (PNA)