LAOAG CITY – A total of 2,218 rice farmers here each received a PHP5,000 cash aid on Thursday to boost their competitiveness amid a looming food crisis.

The distribution of financial assistance is part of the Department of Agriculture’s continuing efforts to help eligible farmer-beneficiaries to cope with the surging prices of fuel and agricultural inputs, among others, through the Rice Farmers Financial Assistance Program under Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law.

As he affixed his electronic signature to an online database of farmer-beneficiaries at the Laoag central terminal, Ernesto Bacud from Barangay Balacad said he was thankful that the government shares the plight of farmers in these difficult times.

"Thank you to our local officials and the government. This helps a lot," he said.

With a barely 5,000-square-meter rice farm, Bacud said his harvest could hardly support his growing family as the price of palay continued to drop.

In his speech, Ilocos Norte Governor Matthew Joseph Manotoc encouraged farmers to shift to other high-value crops to boost their productivity as the price of palay is no longer stable due to trade liberalization.

Under RA 11203, rice import tariffs in excess of the PHP10 billion earmarked annually for the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) could be used to provide financial assistance to palay growers, among other possible options.

The law also mandated that all rice tariffs in excess of PHP10 billion must be used solely for financial assistance until 2024 to farmers, each tilling two hectares or below.

"All eligible farmers are entitled to receive cash aid as long as they are registered under the Registry System for the Basic Sector in Agriculture,” said Erlinda Manipon, officer-in-charge of the DA Region 1.

On the same day, at least seven farmer associations in the towns of Pasuquin, Vintar, Vintar, and Piddig received a combine harvester, two four-wheel-drive tractors, two hand tractors, and two multi-crop cultivators from the DA.

DA data showed that since the implementation of the RCEF, more than one million rice farmers have received over 8.7 million bags of certified inbred rice seeds, which are proven to be higher yielding than traditional home-saved seeds.

Over 830,000 hectares of palay farms nationwide are now yielding more grains than before, according to the DA.

With the RCEF, 950,000 farmers now enjoy access to 19,542 units of farm machinery. (PNA)