By Madelaine B. Miraflor
The Department of Agriculture has distributed ₱2 billion worth of farm machinery under the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), the first since the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) was passed.
In a statement, the DA said that the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech) recently distributed ₱2 billion worth of modern farm machinery to about 6,000 Nueva Ecija rice farmers under RCEF’s mechanization component.
To recall, one of the crucial components of RTL, which allowed unlimited rice importation in the country, is to make Filipino rice farmers competitive by giving them access to free seeds and modern farm equipment to be funded by the so-called RCEF.
RCEF is the tariff collections from all rice imports. The fund is supposed to be injected with ₱10 billion annually from 2019 to 2024.
Of the ₱10 billion, ₱5 billion is allotted to mechanization, but because of bureaucratic bottlenecks, it has been taking PhilMech a long time to procure and distribute farm equipment.
The ₱2 billion worth of farm machinery recently distributed in Nueva Ecija, for instance, was actually still part of the budget allotted to RCEF last year.
PhilMech Director Baldwin Jallorina said the balance of ₱3 billion under RCEF’s 2019 budget is “already being bid out and thereafter distributed this year.”
The fund targets to procure about 495 four-wheel tractors; 356 rice combine harvesters; 576 hand tractors; 103 rice reapers; 52 precision seeders; 106 walk-behind transplanters; 118 riding-type transplanters; 347 floating tillers; and 46 rice mills.
Nonetheless, Agriculture Secretary William Dar called therecent distribution a “historic event” towards the goal of raising productivity, cost-efficiency and competitiveness of farmers and the country’s rice industry.
“From all indications, despite the birth pains, we are now seeing the initial benefits of the Rice Tariffication Law or RTL on our farmers and the country’s rice industry,” Dar said.
RCEF covers 957 municipalities in the country and for rice farmers to benefit from the program, they should be part of the DA’s outdated Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture (RSBSA).
As for RCEF’s mechanization program alone, only rice farmers who are members of cooperatives and associations can benefit from it.
In the selection of beneficiaries, PhilMech has adopted the farm clustering and consolidation strategy to “achieve economies of scale that will pave the way to cost-efficient operations, higher crop productivity and bigger farmers’ incomes,” Dar said.