The government will distribute direct cash assistance of P5,000 to as many as 59,125 farmers in Nueva Ecija to be funded from the excess rice import tariff collection under the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF).
The Department of Agriculture (DA) formally launched this week RCEF’s Rice Farmers Financial Assistance (RCEF-RFFA) program, which will be funded by the P7.6 billion excess tariff collection from rice imports in 2019 and 2020.
Qualified RFFA program beneficiaries are rice farmers tilling two hectares and below and are enrolled in the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture (RSBSA).
This year, 177,309 rice farmers in Central Luzon Region will receive total cash assistance amounting to P886.5 million through the RFFA.
In partnership with the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) and the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP), the DA-Central Luzon Regional Field Office will start distributing the multi-purpose Interventions Monitoring Card (IMC) to the RFFA beneficiaries.
As part of the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL), the government must allocate P10 billion to RCEF annually in the first few years of the law’s implementation. This is aside from the rice import tariff collections that should automatically go into RCEF.
“The program is one of the many positive results of the RTL,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar said, adding that the “RTL benefits outweigh the challenges”.
According to the agriculture chief, rice farmers now enjoy a higher yield and lower production cost, while consumers benefit from adequate and affordable rice because of the RCEF and the National Integrated Rice Program.
Another contribution of the RTL is the record rice harvest of 19.4 million metric tons (MMT) in 2020, setting up another record this year with more than 20MMT rice harvest, the DA said.
However, a group of farmers is refuting these claims of Dar and the DA. In a statement this week, the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) said the DA was being “dishonest and deceptive” when it said that RTL, passed in 2019, had already brought down rice prices by P7 per kilo, reduced the cost of producing palay by P1 per kilo, and improved the country’s rice self-sufficiency to 85 percent.
“The DA is hiding the fact that rice prices after the RTL enactment were actually the same or slightly higher than prices in 2017, which was a more normal year. Official data from the Philippine Statistics Authority [PSA] show that RTL has actually been a flop in terms of lowering rice prices, particularly for poor consumers,” said FFF National Manager Raul Montemayor.
He also said that as for prices, “PSA data show that average cost of palay production was actually lower at P11.05 per kilo in 2016 to 2017. This went up to P11.45 when Dar took over the DA in 2019, and further deteriorated to P11.52 in 2020, despite the billions poured into RCEF programs”.
On the high fertilizer prices, the agri chief said that the DA is promoting a balanced fertilization strategy and has realigned the Rice Program budget for the procurement of compost shredder machines for distribution nationwide as a continuing intervention.
He added that the DA already submitted a request for funding to the Office of the President for the provision of fertilizer subsidy during the dry season planting. He also committed that DA continues to find more ways to serve the sector.