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Stuck with old machines, farmers await gov’t help

/ 05:12 AM February 28, 2020

Filipino palay farmers have yet to receive any equipment or machinery promised under the rice competitiveness enhancement fund (RCEF), a year after limits were relaxed for cheaper rice imports.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar admitted the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech), the department tasked with facilitating the program’s mechanization component, has not distributed anything yet due to slow bureaucratic processes.

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Under the RCEF, the natio­nal government was mandated to provide P10 billion in subsidies to the sector in order to ease the impact of the rice tariffication law. Half of the fund was for mechanization, P3 billion for the provision of seeds, P1 billion for extension services and P1 billion for credit assistance.

Due to delays in budget releases, Dar said the PhilMech’s distribution could be stalled until March—already two months behind the original time frame and way past the planting season for palay.

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He added they already requested the Department of Budget and Management to include the unreleased funds for PhilMech from last year to this year’s general appropriations act. He said the request was received “positively.”

Except for credit, other components under the RCEF were still incomplete as of Feb. 18. The completion rate for the distribution of seeds and extension services during the period were at 87.58 percent and 87.90 percent, respectively.

Farmers eligible to receive PhilMech support are only those listed in the sector’s re­gistry system, are part of an organized group (cooperative or association), and are situated in major rice-producing areas.

Small-holder farmers who are situated in far-flung and nonirrigated areas or in provinces with minimal rice production would not be covered.

The PhilMech aims to cover 1,212 rice-producing municipalities or at least 60,000 farmers in a span of six years, and lower the production cost of palay by P2 to P3 a kilogram through mechanization.

At that rate, the government is optimistic local rice farmers would be more equipped to compete with the influx of affordable imported rice in the market, but for now, the sector—some using worn-out and rickety equipment, and some without—is barely surviving amid the continuous slump in palay prices and the slow utilization of the RCEF.

As of the first week of February, the average farm-gate price of palay reverted to its lowest in eight years at P15.97 a kilogram. That price was also recorded during the last week of January. Historical data showed this was the lowest since the P16.02 a kilo recorded in July 2011.

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With the nearing anniversary of the rice tariffication law and the current plight of the rice industry, several groups have renewed their calls to amend and review the po­licy. The Department of Agriculture and the administration’s economic managers, however, have remained firm on their position to give the law a chance to work.

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TAGS: Agriculture Secretary William Dar, palay farmers, rice competitiveness enhancement fund (RCEF)
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