By JED MACAPAGAL and JOCELYN MONTEMAYOR
The Department of Agriculture (DA) announced P53 billion will initially be utilized this year to buy palay at favorable prices.
This developed as President Duterte assured the country would limit rice importation or will not import at all during harvest season, depending on the assessment of the DA.
The President, during the distribution of different agricultural assistance to farmers in Pigcawayan in Cotabato last Friday, said DA Secretary William Dar would determine how much rice should be imported by the country.
The Philippines is gearing up for the first harvest of the year at the onset of summer, peaking in March and lasting until June.
Dar said the fund for the palay procurement will come from the public sector composed of the National Food Authority (NFA), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), provincial local government units and farmers’ federations.
“Starting this 2019-2020 dry season, we will buy aggressively from farmers, at P19 per kilo. We have instructed NFA administrator Judy Dansal to go all-out and make full use of its P7 billion annual procurement budget and roll it over by at least twice or up to P14 billion to serve and benefit more farmers,” said DA Secretary William Dar.
Dar expressed optimism government-led palay buying and rice trading activities will be better this year as the DSWD will distribute P600 worth of NFA rice instead of cash every month for beneficiaries the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or 4Ps
“The DSWD intervention is worth P31 billion annually, which is a substantial amount that could help prop up palay prices. In addition, major provincial governments and big farmers’ federations will also continue to engage in palay buying and rice marketing operations,” Dar said.
He said about 30 major rice-producing provinces, led by Isabela and Nueva Ecija will again buy palay directly from their farmers, committing an initial P6 billion for the purpose.
Several farmers’ federations in Isabela, Cagayan, Pangasinan and Nueva Ecija will buy at least P2 billion worth of palay from their members.
Dar assured returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) displaced by conflict in the Middle East can avail of an emergency loan from the DA, so they or their families can engage in agriculture, fishery or any agribusiness enterprise.
“The DA through the Agricultural Credit and Policy Council (ACPC) will provide an emergency loan assistance, at zero interest, worth P25,000 each to returning OFW from Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East. They may opt to avail of a bigger amount under the recently-approved DA-ACPC Micro and Small Agribusiness Loan Program, where they can borrow from P300,000 up to P15 million, at zero interest, payable in five years,” he explained.
Duterte also reiterated government would buy the palay produced by the farmers at a competitive price.
Duterte said the government is committed to improving the lives and promoting the welfare of the farmers especially amid the the recent implementation of the Rice Tarrification Law.
He said government is also providing livelihood aid to the rice farmers and had started distributing hybrid rice seeds to improve supply production.
The President reiterated that government recognized the concerns of the farmers over the implementation of the Rice Tariffication but everyone should give the law a chance.
But at the same time, he said, his administration is committed to ensure food security in the country while upholding the welfare of our farmers in the provinces.
The President last year stopped rice importation during harvest season to ensure that the locally-produced rice ar bought first amid the flooding of the market with the grain staple since the removal of the quantitative importation restrictions.
Duterte on Friday led the distribution of P58-million worth of agricultural assistance to farmers in Soccsksargen, providing them with much needed relief as they confront multiple challenges.
Among the farm equipment turned over by President Duterte include six four-wheel drive tractors, five rice combine harvesters, 27 hand tractors, and fertilizers, among others.