Agriculture dep't: Rice farmer support fund benefits to be realized by end of the year

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 2) — The Department of Agriculture (DA) said the benefits from a support fund under the rice tariffication law will be realized by the end of the year.

In a budget presentation at the House of Representatives Monday, the DA gave its timeline on how it will spend half of the ₱10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) for farmers.

Around ₱5 billion, the agriculture department said, has been released from the RCEF as of July 18 - around ₱2 billion to the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and another ₱2 billion to the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PHilMech). The remaining ₱1 billion went to extension programs with PHilMech, the Agricultural Training Institute and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

With 57 municipalities and provinces that produce the most rice as priorities, the DA will begin to provide assistance from October to December.

Bidding for machineries will also begin in December.

However, rice farmers said they are already feeling the pinch of cheaper imported rice because of overimportation from lower rice tariffs.

"Immediate action po ang kailangan. May ₱10-billion RCEF, di po makatutugon kagyat yan sa mababang presyo ng palay," Kilusang Mambubukid ng Pilipinas chairperson Rafael Mariano said during the hearing.

[Translation: We need immediate action. There's a P10-billion RCEF, wouldn't that be able to make up for the low price of unmilled rice? ]

Palay hit an all-time low of ₱7-10 per kilogram in August.

Mariano said Filipino farmers' produce could not compete with prices of imported rice because the local production cost is more expensive.

Mariano said the average cost of rice production in the Philippines is ₱12.72/kg. compared with ₱6.22/kg in Vietnam and ₱8/kg in Thailand.

This is why government needs to find ways to make Filipino farmers more competitive.

Farmer-groups present in the meeting said the cost of fertilizer and other farm inputs is more expensive than in other countries.

CNN Philippines' correspondent Carolyn Bonquin contributed to this report