Two legislators on Thursday filed twin bills mandating the government to buy locally produced agricultural crops and set up palay-drying facilities nationwide to boost the farmers’ incomes and help attain the country’s struggle for food security.
Congressmen Paolo Duterte of Davao City and Eric Yap of Benguet filed House Bill 3382 which aims to ensure that the national and local governments will source out food for their relief and school feeding programs from local farmers.
Complementing this measure is HB 3383, which seeks to appropriate funds for the establishment nationwide of modern rice-drying facilities that will be accessible to the farmers for free.
Duterte and Yap told reporters that these two measures support the government’s priority goals of revitalizing the country’s agriculture sector and fighting hunger, especially among school-age children.
“It is only fitting to put our farmers first when attending to our countrymen’s urgent need for subsistence as our farmers are considered as the nation’s first responders in fulfilling our food requirements. This bill does not aim to derail fair competition in terms of foreign trade and importation, but to support the produce of our own,” Duterte and Yap said of HB 3382.
They recalled that at the height of the pandemic, the farmers came to the rescue of poor Filipino families by dropping their prices and at times, even distributing their produce free of charge to those affected by the COVID-19 lockdowns.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has altered every country’s priority. Aside from the reinforcement to healthcare institutions, what was also given the most important consideration is the provision and distribution of relief to the affected communities,” the lawmakers said.
Under HB 3382, national government agencies and the local government units (LGUs) are mandated to prioritize the purchase of produce from farmers in implementing their respective relief and school feeding programs.
“Prioritizing the purchase of local produce shall mean the exhaustion of all available and applicable local produce at the most reasonable and practicable cost before resorting to imported or foreign produce,” the bill stated.
To lower transportation and hauling costs, the bill provided that for LGUs, local farmers’ produce within their jurisdictions takes precedence over other products from outside their respective territorial jurisdictions.
The bill, however, clarified that the national government and LGUs should not buy produce that are no longer fit for human consumption, are insufficient and inferior in quality, and are more costly and impracticable compared to the imported crops.
To ensure that the government, particularly the National Food Authority (NFA), buys farm produce at competitive prices, the two lawmakers have also made the establishment of rice drying systems mandatory under HB 3383.
The NFA buys clean and dry palay with 14 percent moisture content at P19 per kilo, which small farmers can only offer if they have access to dryers.
Because they lack these facilities, Duterte and Yap noted that many farmers are left with no choice but to sell their palay at bargain basement prices to local traders for only P12 per kilo, making it difficult for them to recover their expenses, the two lawmakers said.
Under their measure, the NFA is mandated to “procure, build, install, operate, manage, and/or maintain rice drying facilities sufficient in quantity and geographically accessible to local farmers to enable it to buy rice directly from local farmers.”
These drying facilities are free for farmers to use if their produce will be sold directly to the NFA.
Under the bill, the initial amount needed to procure the drying facilities would be charged against the appropriations of the Department of Agriculture (DA), and/or sourced from PAGCOR (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.), PCSO (Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office), and the Malampaya Funds.
Funds for the continued implementation of the rice drying program shall be sourced from the DA’s annual appropriations under the national budget, HB 3383 states.