To reduce the country’s dependence on imported farm machineries, the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PHilMech) is hoping that it could develop the local prototype for foreign rice equipment being bought using Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF).
PHilMech Executive Director Baldwin Jallorina said that even though the agency already began bankrolling RCEF’s mechanization component, there was no let-up in the agency’s implementation of its core mandate, which is research and development (R&D).
He also said that the agency is targeting to localize all rice farm equipment being bought using RCEF in six years.
“We are hoping for that,” Jallorina told reporters. “I think we can do it”.
At present, 28 percent of machinery bought using RCEF money is imported from countries like China, Japan, India, and Thailand.
Under the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL), which allowed unlimited rice importation in the country, PhilMech is tasked to procure and distribute P5 billion worth of modern farm equipment every year to help rice farmers lower their production cost.
The funds will come from RCEF, the collection of tariffs from rice imports and is supposed to be injected with P10 billion annually from 2019 to 2024.
Aside from this new mandate, PhilMech is also required to “generate, extend and commercialize appropriate … agriculture and fishery postharvest and mechanization technologies.”
Jallorina said that some of the farm equipment that the agency currently imports are four-wheel tractors, rice transplanter, and rice combine harvesters.
When asked if PhilMech has enough manpower to develop a local prototype for each of these farm equipment, Jallorina said yes, adding that the agency, composed of 126 regular employees and 59 contracted staff, has enough budget for it under its regular fund.
Last week, local think tank Action for Economic Reforms (AER) criticized the slow implementation of RCEF’s mechanization component.
It also stressed that pooling farm machineries alone is not enough, and that extension services, farm consolidation, and strategic clustering are integral in achieving economies of scale.
“Without these complementary programs, AER believes that the government would be throwing good money after bad, with the mechanization fund taking the biggest chunk of the RCEP allocation,” the think tank said.
For this year, PhilMech has P10-billion worth of RCEF money because it wasn’t able to procure last year, the first year of RTL’s implementation.
Of this, P2 billion have already been used to bid out and purchase farm equipment, while the auction and awarding was already finished for another P5 billion worth of machineries.
For the remaining P3 billion worth of equipment, the bidding process already started as well, and PhilMech is hoping to award supply contracts by the end of the year.
There are currently more than 1,000 farmer cooperatives and associations (FCAs) across 900 provinces that are already qualified beneficiaries of RCEF’s mechanization component. An FCA is required to have members with minimum combined landholdings of about 50 hectares.