Rice tarrification bill enhances local farmers’ competitiveness

By Jose Cielito Reganit

November 23, 2018, 8:57 am

MANILA -- Senator Cynthia Villar on Thursday stressed that the rice tarrification bill would enhance the competitiveness of Filipino farmers rather than kill the local rice industry, as claimed by some progressive lawmakers and peasant groups.
Villar, the chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, is the principal sponsor of Senate Bill 1998, which replaces the quantitative import restrictions on rice with tariffs, and creates the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), or Rice Fund.
The bill, which has been certified as urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte, was approved by the bicameral conference committee on Thursday.
Even as the bicameral was still deliberating on the measure, various peasant groups, led by Bantay Bigas, together with Anakpawis party-list, was already holding a protest action at the Senate to condemn the passage of the rice tarrification bill.
They claimed that the passage of the measure would mean the avalanche of cheap imported rice in the local market, and would kill not only the local rice industry but also the livelihood of millions of local rice farmers.
In an ambush interview after the bicam hearing, Villar said it was unfortunate that farmers were being made to believe that the rice tariffication bill would not be beneficial to them.
“Kaya nga may (that is why there is) Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund because we analyzed why they (Filipino farmers) are not competitive. Based on study, kaya hindi sila competitive, mahal ang kanilang (they are not competitive because of their higher) labor cost compared to Vietnam,” she said.
Citing a study made by think-tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS), the Nacionalista Party lawmaker said the factors adversely affecting Filipino farmers’ competitiveness are the lack of mechanization, technical know-how, financial literacy and access to cheap credit.
“So we are going to mechanize. So half, PHP 5 billion of the P10 billion will go to mechanization so that they can compete. Because that is the highest cost difference, iyong labor. And then PHP 3 billion will go to seeds. Tuturuan silang maging (They will be taught as) seed growers ng inbred seeds ng PhilRice. That will increase their harvest from 4 metric tons to 6 metric tons per hectare,” Villar said.
As provided for in the rice tarrification bill, the RCEF will have a minimum allocation of PHP10 billion a year for six years, and tariff revenues from rice imports in excess of PHP10 billion shall be appropriated by Congress based on a menu of programs in the rice tariffication law.
Under the Rice Tariffication Bill, the proposed fund will be allocated as follows: 50 percent for grants to farmers’ associations, registered rice cooperatives, and local government units in the form of rice equipment, to be implemented by the Philippine Center for Post-Harvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech); and 30 percent for the development, propagation and promotion of inbred rice seeds to rice farmers and organizations, to be implemented by the Philippine Rice Research Institution (PhilRice).
The 10 percent will be in the form of credit at preferential rates to rice farmers and cooperatives to be managed by Land Bank and the Development Bank of the Philippines; and the remaining 10 percent for extension services to teach rice farmers modern methods of farming, seed production, and farm mechanization, to be administered by PhilMech, PhilRice, the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
Villar further said they have already identified 1,100 rice-producing towns that would be the priority beneficiaries of mechanization in the form of tractors, transplanters, harvesters, dryers, and rice milling equipment.
She said the provision of rice milling equipment would enable farmers’ associations and cooperatives to mill their palay into rice and empower them to directly negotiate with retailers and consumers.
“That’s common sense that if you want to get more for your product, you go direct to buyers,” Villar said.
Furthermore, Villar said the rice tarrification bill not only limits inflation, but would also lead to rice self-sufficiency in the long run.
“Yes, if we are successful in the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund,” she answered when asked on rice sufficiency.
The senator said the use of quality inbred seeds alone could increase farmers’ production by up to 50 percent, or from four metric tons per hectare to six metric tons.
Over a period of time, Villar said this would be enough to cover the country’s shortfall in production.
At present, the Philippines produces 93 percent of its rice requirement and needs to import the remaining seven percent.
“That’s 50-percent increase in productivity. We are rice-sufficient if we can do that. Of course, we cannot expect to do that in the first year, but over six years, baka makaya natin iyon na (we can attain that) we are rice sufficient,” Villar said. (PNA)