Dar: 25 provinces will buy palay to help farmers
MANILA, Philippines — Agriculture Secretary William Dar on Wednesday said he had secured the commitment of 25 provincial governments to buy palay as a growing number of farmers complained of depressed prices for their produce resulting from the rice tariffication law.
President Rodrigo Duterte also said he had directed the National Food Authority (NFA) to buy up all the rice farmers’ produce.
“It is a mode that is intended to serve the greater interest of the majority of the people. So the solution there is to buy [the farmers’ rice]. If we lose money, then we lose money,” he said. “Why are we collecting taxes? To lose money, to help.”
He said, however, that the government “cannot demand a price.”
“You arrive at a compromise of how much you are willing to lose, a little bit. But do not demand a price that is unreasonable,” the President said.
As low as P7 per kilo
Palay prices have plunged to as low as P7-P8 a kilo, adding to the suffering of farmers, who are among the poorest in the country.
Dar said the 25 provinces had committed to buy palay at P17 per kilo.
“Almost all the top rice-producing provinces of the country now have committed to be doing this economic enterprise—buying palay and doing the business until they sell,” he said at a press briefing in Malacañang.
If each of these provinces invested P200 million, P5 billion would be raised to buy rice from poor farmers, Dar said.
For DSWD stock
He said he was also in talks with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to give rice instead of the P600 cash to the beneficiaries of its rice subsidy program.
The rice would be bought by the DSWD from the provincial governments and the NFA, and this would help the farmers affected by rice imports, he added.
Dar also said he had directed the NFA to follow the accelerated rollover scheme of buying, milling and selling rice. In doing that, the P7 billion it now has for this purpose would grow to P21 billion, he added.
Dar had earlier said the P7-billion NFA fund was not enough to buy all the rice that would be produced by about 1.1 million small farmers because that amount was only enough to purchase 450,000 metric tons of palay while the expected harvest this year was 6 million MT.
The agriculture chief told reporters in Malacañang that he would ask rice importers to release their stocks to the market in order to bring down the price of the country’s staple.
Data from March to August showed that 2.2 million-2.5 million MT of rice have already been imported. And yet, Dar said, rice prices in certain areas have remained higher than expected, rising above P37 a kilo.
“If it’s imported rice, it should be lower than P37,” he said. “It is baffling why they are managing the releases of these and doing it little by little.”
The Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) would check up on the importers, Dar said.
“We will move around with the DTI to make sure they are not managing for themselves only,” he said.
“We have to encourage them to really bring out more of these stocks,” he said. If they don’t, they would face the full force of the law, Dar added.
Caused by hoarding?
He said the DA would look into whether hoarding had brought down the price of palay, aggravating the plight of the farmers.
Dar said that before the tariffication law was passed, some rice traders and millers brought down palay prices after they stopped buying and milling palay, but added that he was still studying the data regarding this.
At the House of Representatives, Magsasaka Rep. Argel Joseph Cabatbat called for an urgent review of the rice tariffication law and an investigation “to flush out who are those behind this rice cartel, the mafia that is causing the miseries of our farmers.”
Filipino farmers have already lost between P80 billion to P120 billion in income due to price manipulation by a mafia in the rice industry, he said.
“We are now feeling the adverse impact of this rice tariffication law. Our farmers are suffering from massive losses because of the low buying price of their palay,” Cabatbat said.
In a dialogue with farmers in Pangasinan on Saturday, Dar said “free market forces,” not the tariffication law, had caused the decline of the farm-gate price of rice.
“The [rice tariffication] law is new,” he said. “Critics have been blaming the law for the low buying price of palay but that’s not the case.”
Dar added that the law even helped reduce the inflation rate from 6 percent to 2.5 percent due to low prices of commercial rice.
—With a report from Melvin Gascon
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