By Madelaine B. Miraflor
Even if the country has already opened its doors to the free-flowing rice importation through the Rice Tariffication Bill, mechanization in rice farming — which would have helped the Filipino farmers fight competition and higher productivity — will not be improved anytime soon.
In fact, it is not going to happen within this year, an official from the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PHilMech) said.
PHilMech is one of the government agencies tasked to utilize bulk of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), the collected imported rice tariff. As a special rice safeguard duty, RCEP is meant to protect the rice industry from sudden or extreme price fluctuations.
As part of the Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law, RCEF will be first injected with P10 billion annually from 2019 to 2024 or a period of six years. Of the P10 billion, P5 billion will be allocated for mechanization of the local rice sector.
More than two months since the release of the law’s Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR), PHilMech Chief Science Research Specialist Rod Estigoy said the agency is still finalizing the guidelines in distributing machines under RCEF.
The guidelines, he said, should come out by June to be followed by the actual distribution of machinery in December yet.
With a farm mechanization level of only 2.1 horsepower per hectare, the Philippines currently lags behind in productivity. This, as more than 16 percent of the farmers’ total production go to waste due to post-harvest losses.
The cost of producing rice in the Philippines currently stands at P12.72 per kilo, while it is only P6.22 per kilo in Vietnam and P8.86 per kilo in Thailand. This is why rice that are produced here are more expensive than the rice imported abroad.
If mechanization will not happen any time soon, local rice farmers will have to keep on bearing the brunt of falling palay prices amid the surge of cheaper, imported rice into the local market.
Palay prices have been on a downtrend for weeks, a data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed. During the fourth week of May alone, the farmgate price of palay went down by 0.2 percent week on week to P18.20 per kilogram. On an annual basis, it was lower by 13.7 percent from the previous year’s level of P21.08 per kg.
Based on estimates, RCEF is meant to reduce the cost of producing palay in the Philippine by P1 to P3 per kilo.
No coop, no equipment
PHilMech’s guidelines will include the identification of the 1,200 municipalities that would facilitate the deployment of farm equipment and machines under RCEF.
Each municipality should have a viable farmers’ organization with at least 100 hectares of irrigated rice lands. This means that if you are an individual farmer, who does not belong in a cooperative, you will not benefit from this program.
“It would be easier for PHilMech to deploy or distribute farm machines in the 1,200 municipalities if the rice farmers there are organized,” PHilMech Executive Director Baldwin G. Jallorina said.
The 1,200 municipalities are located in 16 regions that host farming activities. Metro Manila is not included.
Jallorina said that before the actual deployment and distribution of farm machines in the 1,200 municipalities start, PHilMech would conduct “mind-setting” activities like information drive and technical briefings to prepare Filipino rice farmers to adapt to mechanization.
The equipment to be distributed under the program include tractors for land preparation, trans-planters for crop establishment, combined harvesters for harvesting, mechanical dryers and rice mill for post-harvest.
Estigoy said that if all provided in one go, each set would cost P15 million to P20 million.
Too small to distribute
At present, PHilMech is still trying to make room for additional manpower and equipment. For an agency used to handling only P200 million to P300 million budget every year, utilizing a budget of P5 billion is not going to be an easy task, PHilMech Deputy Director Raul Paz earlier said.
“PHilMech is a very small agency,” Paz said. “But that it is also the most appropriate agency to handle the farm mechanization program of the government.”
Fortunately, he said, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has allowed the agency to hire additional employees. The agency also has a pending request to acquire more vehicles for easier mobility.