Villar touts gains of local farmers in rice tariff law

Senator Cynthia Villar on Monday, April 26, praised the reported achievements of government agencies in implementing the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL), particularly the funds meant to aid local rice farmers amid the liberalized importation of the commodity.

(MANILA BULLETIN File Photo/Jansen Romero)

Citing a report submitted by the Department of Agriculture to the Senate, the chairperson of the upper chamber's Agriculture and Food Committee said the concerned agencies "continu to deliver their commitment in insuring the availability of affordable and quality rice to consumers, while increasing the productivity and incomes of rice farmers, despite the pandemic."

She referred to the Rice Competitive Enhancement Fund (RCEF), which is the P10-billion annual appropriation aimed at helping rice farmers compete with the increased entry of cheaper rice imports due to the RTL.

Villar said that for 2020, palay (unhusked rice) harvest is 19.4 million metric tons (MT) or 3.3 percent more than the 18.810-million MT output in 2019. Production also surpassed the previous high of 19.27 million MT in 2017, she added.

"This is a rice adequacy level of 90 percent; average harvest per hectare is 4.09 MT of palay. The yield recorded for the period October-December 2019 was 4.1 metric tons per hectare, versus the 3.9 metric tons per hectare yield recorded for the period October-December 2018," said the senator, quoting the DA report.

The senator said that at present, the cost of producing palay in the Philippines is at P12.72 per kilogram, while it is P6.22/kg in Vietnam and P8.86/kg in Thailand, citing a study from the DA’s Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice).

Some 674,400 farmers have received 1.68 million bags of free certified inbred rice seeds, which were planted in 843,000 hectares of land in 948 RCEF municipalities nationwide. This was 98.5 percent of the targeted 962 towns for seed distribution, Villar said.

For March, 2021, the PhilRice reported that it has already achieved 100 percent seed deliveries for the dry season.

The PhilRice has also distributed almost 1.7 million bags of high-quality inbred rice seeds to 957 municipalities from the target 55 provinces all over the country.

Meanwhile, Villar said that the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech) has procured 15,918 units of farm machinery and equipment (FME) out of the targeted 23,378 units.

These were delivered to 3,804 qualified farmers’ cooperatives and associations (FCAs), thus benefitting at least 1.35 million farmer-members, she said.

On the provision of loans under the RCEF, a total of P1.584 billion was lent to FCAs in RCEF program areas, with the Land Bank of the Philippines releasing P968 million, and the Development Bank of the Philippines releasing P616 million.

Also, the DA-Agricultural Training institute (ATI), PhilMech and PhilRice have have obligated some P16.2 billion and disbursed over P7.1 billion from the P20-billion allocation of the RCEF for training of farmers, technicians and other rice industry stakeholders from 2019 to 2020.

The Republic Act No. 11203, signed in 2019, guaranteed a P10-billion allocation for the RCEF.

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.

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.

Villar said that the 2021 RCEF has been released by the Department of Budget and Management and is ready for implementation by the agencies.

Recently, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said that the RTL is starting to pay off, saying the country's rice sector is "gradually realizing its potentials".