Rice farmers disappointed RCEF failed to lower costs

Published August 11, 2020, 6:00 PM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

While the country’s palay output went up during the second quarter of this year, rice farmers are disappointed that the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) – the tariff collected from rice imports and is supposed to help lower the production cost of Filipino rice farmers – did not necessarily help the production of the main staple grow in the last months.

Jaime Tadeo, representative of PARAGOs Pilipinas, said in a statement that there was high expectations for palay output to rebound and improve significantly with the implementation of RCEF, which is one of the crucial components of Rice Tariffication Law (RTL).

To recall, RTL, which allowed the unimpeded entry of cheaper imported rice into the country starting March last year, required the government to provide free seeds and mechanization to rice farmers using RCEF in order to bring down their production cost and in turn be able to compete with rice imports.

RCEF is supposed to be injected with P10 billion annually from 2019 to 2024.

Tadeo noted that after recovering from El Niño, rice production is really expected to recover from 2019 levels and with RCEF, the increase should be significantly higher.

“Where is the impact of all the investments not just on RCEF for 2019 but also of significant budgets for irrigation over the last 4 years,” Tadeo said.

The country’s palay harvests from April to June, according to Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), reached 4.125 million metric tons (MT), representing a 7 percent increase over the output during the same period in 2019.

This means that the Philippines’ rice output for the first half of the year was slightly higher at 8.386 million MT compared to the same period in 2019.

But compared to production levels of 8.5 million MT and 8.71 million MT in 2017 and 2018, which didn’t have RCEF support yet, the country’s rice output actually went down.  

Aside from RCEF funds, the government has also allocated during the first quarter of this year as much

as P8.5 billion in additional funds for fertilizers and additional seed subsidies under the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Rice Resiliency Program.

Trinidad Domingo, representative of Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan (PKSK), said the lackluster performance of palay can actually be attributed to the impact of RTL.

“Many farmers were disheartened by the low palay buying in 2019 due to the import surge as a result of the Rice Tariffication Law,” Domingo said.

Domingo’s statement was in line with the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) earlier forecast that the Philippines will continue to be the world’s top rice importer over the next two years because Filipino rice farmers already began abandoning their rice farms for other jobs due to low prices amid influx of imported rice.  

Meanwhile, the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) is now urging the DA to address deficiencies in its support delivery system for rice farmers.  

FFF said it has received reports of delayed deliveries of seeds, substandard seeds with low germination rates, and the provision of seed varieties which farmers do not like.  

According to the group, some local government units (LGUs) have allegedly been charging farmers for delivery and facilitation fees for the free seeds, while some individuals reportedly got multiple rations of subsidized seeds by asking their spouses and children to make separate applications or registering more than one farm plot under the program.