Sen. Cynthia Villar said Friday that P25.5 billion has been set aside under the Department of Agriculture’s proposed 2021 budget to boost the Philippines’ rice sufficiency and the income of rice farmers.
Villar, sponsor of the DA’s budget and chairperson of the Senate agriculture committee, said the agency’s National Rice Program and the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) would be appropriated with P15.5 billion and P10 billion, respectively.
The National Rice Program, said the senator, was considered as one of the DA’s banner programs since 1986 with the goal of achieving self-sufficiency. It includes the distribution of fertilizers and hybrid seeds, as well as grant of trainings and farm equipment to improve farmers’ competitiveness.
Under the proposed rice program fund, P6.2 billion was allocated for the distribution of hybrid seeds, P375 million for inbred seeds, P4.4 billion for fertilizers, P998.2 million for trainings, P658.7 million for research and development, P1 billion for equipment, P745.9 million for irrigation, and P858.7 million for others.
“However, this computation of allocation for rice through the years should have included the budgets for the irrigation through the NIA 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,” Villar said.
She also pointed out that the poverty situation in rural areas has not significantly changed during the past 34 years.
“The reduction was quite modest in comparison with that of other ASEAN countries. 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.”
The allocation for the RCEF, meanwhile, was mandated under the Rice Tariffication Act (Republic Act No. 11203) which replaced the quota system on rice importation with tariffs since 2019.
The law guaranteed a P10-billion funding for the program until 2024 to assist rice farmers negatively affected by the increased inflow of cheaper rice imports so they could compete.
Under the RCEF, P5 billion shall be for the distribution of machineries and equipment to farmer’s cooperatives and association or to the LGUs of rice-producing towns with at least 100 hectares of rice farm lands, P3 billion shall be for the distribution of quality inbred seeds given to farmers, P1 billion for credit facility with minimal interest available to rice farmers, and P1 billion for training rice farmers.
The law also provides that tariff collections in excess of P10 billion may be allocated to other programs on rice, including financial assistance to small rice farmers, during its first six years of implementation.
Last October, Villar filed a proposed joint resolution that would authorize the use of the excess tariff collections by the Bureau of Customs for this year as financial assistance to rice farmers and be included in the General Appropriations Act of 2021.
She said about one million rice farmers owning one hectare and below would benefit from the move.
Villar maintained that the Rice Tariffication Act should not be blamed for the problems faced by rice farmers. She said this was “an attempt to muddle the issue and is being used by some vested interests who do not want to correct and empower the rice farmers.”
“The problem of rice farmers should not be blamed entirely on the RCEF. It has been just over a year for it to create such a huge impact, because the law was passed in February 2019 while the National Rice Program has been there since 1986,” she said, citing the DA’s failure to meet its goals for the National Rice Program.