A great opportunity to put our act together through irrigators associations

Published May 11, 2019, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

Dr. Emil Q. Javier
Dr. Emil Q. Javier

Now that rice tariffication had been enacted into law (RTA), the hard part of implementation begins. The first objective of making rice more affordable is now being realized as retail prices begin to decline as anticipated. However, attaining the second objective of making our rice farmers more productive and more competitive to protect their incomes will be difficult and drawn out.

The Rice Competitive Enhancement Fund (RCEF) provision in the RTA allocates at least P10 billion every year for the second purpose. A lot depends now on how the agencies will exercise their respective mandates, namely: the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PHilMech) for mechanization, the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) for provision of seeds, the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) for farmer training and extension, and Land Bank of the Philippines for subsidized credit. The agency intentions and programs need to be clearly spelled out in their respective Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRRs).

All along this column maintains that the key constraint to our agriculture is our small fragmented farms which lack economies of scale to operate. The corporate farms and the better endowed farmers with more land and capital are able to bring together all the factors of production and with their size attain some leverage in the market place. But not so the small, impoverished subsistence farmers.

Hence the imperative to institute measures that will consolidate our small farms into larger management units. This can be achieved through three alternative modes which could be complementary i.e. not mutually exclusive.
First is through contract growing by small farmers with corporate integrators. Second is through farmers’ associations such as cooperatives, irrigators’ associations, seed growers, and agrarian reform beneficiaries associations. Third is through land consolidation through leasing and/or outright purchase.

The last mode would require the lifting of the limits to land ownership imposed by agrarian reform. This will free the land market and thereby encourage more private sector investments in agriculture. However, this is unlikely to happen anytime soon because this is tantamount to reversing agrarian reform which is highly divisive politically.

Convergence of delivery
of inputs and services

The new rice tariffication act generously provides free farm machinery, free seeds, subsidized credit and hopefully better organized extension services. This is a great opportunity to reinforce the second modality by coursing the delivery of these public goods and services not to individual farmers but through organized farmers groups.

The problem is government organized separate institutional platforms for the delivery to the farmers of these important inputs and services. First, we organized Samahang Nayons which later graduated into farmer cooperatives being supervised by the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA). Next, we organized agrarian reform beneficiaries into Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Associations (ARBAs) and Agrarian Reform Communities (ARCs) under the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). Yet a third organization for farmers in the service areas of irrigation systems i.e. Irrigators Associations under National Irrigation Administration (NIA) (for large irrigation systems) and another set under the Bureau of Soils and Water Management of the Department of Agriculture (BSWM-DA) (for the small irrigation units).

The confusion for sure will get worse as I understand both PhilMech and PhilRice in their draft IRRs of the new RTA are contemplating to organize anew separate farmer clusters to receive, operate, and maintain the free machines (for PhilMech) and seed clusters (for PhilRice).

Thus, a rice farmer in order to receive these legislated free inputs and services must be a member of at least five organizations. This is duplicative, wasteful, and potential source of confusion and conflict. Better that the delivery of these inputs and services be coursed through one rural entity.

Irrigators associations
as most logical conduits

The absolute need for water and for better coordination for the timely and more equitable distribution of this increasingly scarce resource constitute a strong natural communal bond among the rice farmers. Thus, the most logical and most practical conduits are the thousands of irrigators associations organized under the auspices of the NIA (for the large irrigation systems) and of the BSWM-DA (for the small irrigation units).

However in order to succeed, it cannot be business as usual. Hitherto, the responsibility for organizing, providing guidance and supervising the Irrigators Associations rested entirely with the NIA and BSWM-DA. The rest of the DA family of agencies i.e.PhilRice, PhilMech, ATI, the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), the Regional Offices, the Agricultural Credit Policy Council (ACPC), and DA Marketing Services Division all had nothing to do with the Irrigators Associations. These silos in the DA must be brought down.

Dr. Emil Q. Javier is a Member of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) and also Chair of the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines (CAMP).

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