As Isabela rice farmers struggle with the twin effects of the Rice Tariffication Law and the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, an Isabela-based cooperative avoided bankruptcy and even posted higher earnings due to the direct buying of rice by local government units (LGUs).
In an online consultation with farmers in Isabela Thursday, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan recognized the efforts of Nagkakaisang Magsasaka ng Isabela Agricultural Cooperative (NMI) who would have lost 10 million kilos of rice harvest if not for the direct purchase allowed by the Sagip Saka Law.
NMI manager Ana Cristina Go said that before and during the pandemic, the buying price of palay in Isabela went as low as P10 to P14 per kilo.
Using the Rice Competitive Enhancement Fund, NMI as mandated by Isabela Governor Rodolfo Albano III, the cooperative increased their buying price of palay by P5 per kilo for their 8,500 members.
The challenge, however, was how to sell the 10 million kilos of palay they were able to buy from farmers. “Isa po ang Sagip Saka na napakalaking tulong po na naibigay sa amin (Sapig Saka was a big help to us),” said Go.
“Dahil po since emergency, bago lang po ang aming coop, kailangan namin ng tulong sa paper work at bidding. Binigyan namin [ng bigas] lahat ng LGU ng Isabela, sa Cavite, sa Batangas, at sa Makati, Quezon City, Taguig — bumili po sila lahat sa amin sa pamamagitan ng Sagip Saka. (Because of the health emergency, our cooperative is new, we needed help in paper work and bidding. We gave all LGUs in Isabela, Cavite, Batangas, Makati, Quezon City – they all bought from us through Sagip Saka). We didn’t have to go through the process of bidding.)’’ said Go, a former congresswoman.
“Hindi po kami nalugi. Sa totoo lang, kumita pa po ang coop. (We did not lose. Truth be told, the cooperative profited.) Because of Sagip Saka, we were able to sell out our products. Hanggang ngayon po, ginagamit pa rin naming (Up to now, we are using it),” she added.
Go said that when palay prices were at their lowest, the NMI cooperative bought palay from farmers at P19 per kilo.
“Ang naging problema po namin, hindi namin mabenta nang bagsak (Our problem was that we were not able to sell rice when prices went down). Nung nagkaroon po ng COVID, andami pong mga LGUs ay sila po ang tumulong na (When COVID-19 came, Many LGUs came and helped) ” she explained.
Pangilinan pointed out that the Sagip Saka law allows direct purchase not only by LGUs.
He said national agencies like the Departments of Social Welfare and Development and Education (DSWD and DepEd) could now also buy directly from farmers and fisher-folk groups and cooperatives.
“Direct buying ng government agencies ang susi (by government is the key). Kailangang paigtingin (It should be supported),” he said. Pangilinan committed to help cooperatives in Isabela and all over the country be connected with national government agencies to facilitate direct buying of agricultural products.
“Agriculture power house ang Isabela. Its success has effects nationwide,” Pangilinan said.
Isabela is the number one rice and corn producing province in Region 2, contributing 60 percent and 51 percent of the total supply respectively despite limited budget. As of 2021, Region 2 has an allocation of over P2 billion under the National Rice Program, and P145 million for the National Corn Program.