Cash aid for farmers readied

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    Long-term plan. Government is encouraging younger generations to go into rice farming as the average age of farmers has hit 60.
    Long-term plan. Government is encouraging younger generations to go into rice farming as the average age of farmers has hit 60.

    The Cabinet has approved the allocation of an additional P3 billion in unconditional cash transfer of P5,000 each to rice farmers for next year.

    To institutionalize the assistance to small farmers, a lawmaker has filed a measure providing for congressional authorization for an immediate special fund—the proposed Rice Farmer Financial Assistance (RFFA)—to allow the Department of Agriculture (DA) to grant cash transfers to small farmers.

    Over at the House of Representatives yesterday, Speaker Allan Peter Cayetano, majority leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and other House leaders received the 50,000 signatures gathered by Bantay Bigas calling for the repeal of the Rice Tarrification Law (RTL).

    William Dar, DA secretary, told reporters in a briefing in Quezon City yesterday the agency is finalizing the unconditional cash transfer for the P3 billion approved by the Cabinet for this year and another

    P3 billion for the coming year.

    “We will zero in … on farmers tilling 1.01 hectare up to two hectares at the level of P5,000 each,” Dar said.

    But this year’s P3-billion allocation will be distributed to farmers tilling one hectare and below.

    Dar said the fund will be sourced from what will be the excess of the P10-billion yearly required allotment for the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) from the collection of rice importation tariffs.

    “Based on the RTL, any excess from the tariff after allocating for the RCEF, can be used for cash transfer or to support crop insurance, crop diversification program or titling of lands,” Dar added.

    With the average age of farmers now at 60, the DA is encouraging the younger generation to go into farming through an inclusive agri-business program.

    Under the program, farmers will get P500,000 in start-up capital with zero interest and payable in five years.

    Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker for finance Luis Raymond “LRay” Villafuerte filed House Resolution (HR) No. 532 seeking to help farmers cope with low palay prices this main harvest season as a result of RTL.

    Villafuerte said the passage of his resolution will have the full force and effect of a law once approved by both the House and the Senate.

    The Speaker said the House leadership remains open to the proposal and would study all options to help farmers affected by the law.

    Villafuerte said his resolution will provide instant relief to small palay growers reeling from declining farmgate prices by passing the measure which would provide farmers with cash transfers or subsidies, to be sourced from rice import tariff collections in excess of the P10 billion earmarked yearly for the RCEF.

    He said an initial P1.4 billion can be channeled to his proposed unconditional cash transfer (UCT) plan for the affected farmers, given that the Bureau of Customs (BOC) has thus far collected P11.4 billion in customs duties from rice imports since the RTL was enacted last March.

    HR No. 532 states that farmgate prices of dry palay dropped by as much as P10 per kilo in several rice-producing areas following the implementation of the RTL in March which Villafuerte said led to “huge income losses for rice farmers and the industry, which is now estimated to be around P50 billion at current prices.”

    “Rather than wait for the excess amount to be appropriated under the national budget for the following year when this was collected, the Congress should act now and do its share in helping our distraught rice farmers survive this temporary drop in palay farmgate prices and transition to the new rice tariffication regime,” the measure said.

    “There is an urgent need to immediately set-up the Rice Farmer Financial Assistance as a supplementary and transitional safety measure to serve as compensation to rice farmers who are farming two hectares and below for the reduction or loss of their farm income arising from the tariffication of the quantitative import restrictions on rice,” Villafuerte said. (With W. Vigilia)