By MADELAINE B. MIRAFLOR
The Philippine government will finally move to assist rice farmers diversify into other crops as part of the Rice Tariffication Law or Republic Act (RA) 11203, which allowed the unimpeded entry of imported rice in the country.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the government’s Crop Diversification Program, which is supposed to be part of RA 11203, is now being finalized and will have an allotted fund of ₱1.3 billion for this year.
“We will now help rice farmers diversify,” Dar said in an interview with reporters. “The program should start later within this year.”
Under RA 11203, a portion of the excess tariff will be allocated to titling rice lands, expanded crop insurance, and crop diversification program.
To recall, RTL requires as much as ₱10 billion of rice import tariffs to go directly to Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), which is supposed to make farmers competitive through the provision of high quality seeds, machinery, credit, and extension services.
Last year, collections from rice import tariffs amounted to ₱12.3 billion. Of the ₱2.3 billion excess, Dar said ₱1.3 billion will go to the Crop Diversification Program while the rest will be allotted to insurance provision.
The Crop Diversification Program will happen at a time when rice farmers, who has been dealing with extremely low palay prices amid the influx of cheaper imported rice, already started leaving their farms to look for jobs elsewhere.
In its earlier outlook, United States of Department of Agriculture (USDA) said that aside from typhoons, farmers’ decision to abandon rice farming is also taking a toll on the country’s total rice production.
For the entire 2019, it expected the country’s total paddy output to reach 18.48 million MT, 3 percent lower than last year’s 19.06 million MT output.
“The downward revisions are steeper as a result of the continued decline in paddy prices, which will force some farmers to shift away from rice cultivation in MY [Market Year] 2019/2020. According to a rice miller, farmers will wait for one or two more rice crops before deciding to shift to other crops or pursue another livelihood,” USDA further said.
From January 1 to February 14, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) had so far collected ₱1.71 billion in duties slapped on imported rice. This was lower by 23.1 percent from ₱2.22 billion in the same period last year.
The traders particularly brought in 209,320 metric tons (MT) of rice.
The RA 11203 currently imposes a minimum 35 percent tariff on rice imports in lieu of quantitative restrictions (QRs).