Dar on year-old rice tariff law: Farmers are the winners
The country’s Agriculture chief described the controversial rice tariffication law (RTL) as the “best reform that ever happened to Philippine agriculture” despite pleas from small-scale farmers and other organized groups to review the policy because of its repercussions to the poorest stakeholders of the rice industry.
Speaking during the first year anniversary celebration of the RTL in Urdaneta, Pangasinan, on Thursday with Sen. Cynthia Villar, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the liberalized importation law would make Filipino palay farmers more competitive and on a par with their counterparts from neighboring rice-producing countries like Vietnam and Thailand, where most of the country’s rice imports come from.
He also noted the year-old policy has resulted in more rice options for consumers. “Just after a year [since the law was passed], there are already several rice variants available in the market … Consumers now have a choice from regular milled, well-milled and fancy rice varieties,” he said.
Both Dar and Villar said they were banking on the annual P10-billion rice competitiveness enhancement fund (RCEF) under the RTL to cushion the impact of low palay prices, which continued to hover between P12 and P17 a kilogram against rates from the previous years between P15 and P20 a kilo. Villar is the proponent of the law.
As of February, however, the RCEF has not been fully given to the beneficiaries. Except for credit, other components such as provisions for seeds, extension services and mechanization have yet to be completed.
After imported rice flooded the local market, small-scale farmers who were not able to sustain the impact of tumbling palay rates have either sold their lands, migrated to the city or cut their planting activities.
Nonetheless, Dar noted that “under RTL, Filipinos are the winners, rice farmers are the winners.”
Groups like Bantay Bigas, Ibon Foundation and Amihan Women continued to rally for the amendment of the policy, while organizations such as the Federation of Free Farmers, Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura and Alyansa Agrikultura have been urging the Department of Agriculture to impose additional safeguard duties on rice to control the arrival of imported rice.
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