Senator Cynthia Villar said on Tuesday the Department of Agriculture (DA) has two programs next year designed to boost the country’s overall rice sufficiency, thereby augmenting the income of farmers and other stakeholders in the agricultural sector.
Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, said these programs are the National Rice Program and the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF).
“The National Rice Program is one of the banner programs of the DA that focuses on rice farming under the Office of the Secretary. It has been there since 1986 under six Presidents,” said Villar.
She said the Department classifies it as a subsidy to accelerate the adoption of modern rice technology toward increased yield, increased income, and disaster risk reduction.
National Rice Program
For 2021, Villar said the National Rice Program has been allocated a budget of P15.5 billion, to be spent on hybrid seeds (P6.2 billion), fertilizers P4.4 billion, equipment (P1 billion), training (P998.2 million), irrigation (P745.9 million), research and development (P658.7 million), inbred seeds (P375 million), and on other purposes (P375 million).
“However, this computation of allocation for rice through the years should have included the budgets for the irrigation through the NIA (National Irrigation Administration) averaging P31 billion a year and that of NFA (National Food Authority) which is subsidized yearly by P7 billion for the Buffer Stocking Program in times of calamites, fortuitous events, or shortfall in production,” she added.
Noting that the poverty situation in rural areas has not significantly changed during the past 34 years, Villar said, “Thus, the strategic goal of the rice sector development program should be to increase total farm productivity and income rather than rice production alone in order to optimize total farm income.”
Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF)
The RCEF is a key feature of Republic Act (RA) No.11203, the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL), which removed the quota system on rice importation and replaced it with tariffs. The RCEF, which has an annual allocation of P10 billion, began in 2019 and would last until 2024.
Villar said the tariff is pegged at 35 percent if rice importation is from within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and 180 percent if above the minimum access volume (MAV) and from a non-ASEAN country. The law guarantees the P10-billion RCEF with or without tariff collection.
The fund is separate from the budget for the National Rice Program. It is intended to assist rice farmers who will be negatively affected by the expected increase in the inflow of cheaper rice imports of similar quality into the country, as well as make rice production in the country more competitive.
It is targeted to benefit the 55 rice-producing provinces across the country, covering 947 municipalities, Villar said.
The RCEF in 2021 will be spent on the following: P5 billion for mechanization by PhilMech in the form of machineries and equipment for farmers’ cooperatives and associations or for LGUs of rice-producing towns with at least 100 hectares of rice farm lands; P3 billion in the form of quality inbred seeds given to farmers listed in the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture (RSBSA) by PhilRice, with each receiving a maximum of four bags at 20 kilograms per bag, depending on farm size, from 0.5 to 2 hectares; P1-billion credit facility with minimal interest available to rice farmers and/or their cooperatives divided equally between Land Bank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines; and P1-billion extension support implemented by PhilMech, PhilRice, ATI, and TESDA for training rice farmers on quality inbred rice production, modern rice farming techniques, farm mechanization and technology transfer through the different accredited farm schools nationwide.
In 2020, the Bureau of Customs (BoC) reported a tariff collection of P3 billion representing taxes collected from January to September, 2020. This is excess of the threshold set by the RTL.
The law also provides that collections in excess of P10 billion may be allocated to other related programs, including financial assistance to small rice farmers, during its first six years of implementation.
Meanwhile, a joint resolution proposes to use all rice tariff collections beyond P10 billion as financial aid to farmers owning one hectare and below.
Villar said that the apparent fixation on blaming the RCEF and tariffication for the failure of the National Rice Program to meet its goals is an attempt to muddle the issue. She said it is being used by somewith vested interests who do not want to correct and empower rice farmers.
“The problem of rice farmers should not be blamed entirely on the RCEF. It has been given just over a year for it to create such a huge impact since the law was passed in February, 2019, while the National Rice Program has been there since 1986,” Villar said.