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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

DA, governors to hike rice output

THE Department of Agriculture (DA) is tapping the assistance of the provincial governments in rice producing regions for concerted efforts to attain sufficient and stable supply of rice nationwide.

Meanwhile, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte suggested to give farmers in the top 10 rice producing provinces financial aid of P40,000 per hectare to help realize the government target of rice sold at P20 per kilo — on the condition that farmers would sell their palay to the government at P9 per kilo.

Villafuerte called it a “game-changing program” that would achieve the targeted P20 per kilo of rice as enunciated by President Marcos during the election campaign last year.

The DA also hinted at a P41 to P48 per kilo price of rice from its retailers during the holiday season in a briefing conducted by the House Committee on Agriculture and Food chaired by Quezon Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga.

DA Assistant Secretary Arnel de Mesa told legislators that about 95 percent of palay (unhusked rice) has already been harvested “and majority of these harvests were bought from between P20 to 23 per kilogram [from farmers].”

Newly appointed Agriculture Secretary Francisco Laurel said the governors have pledged support to boost supply, bring down importation, and lower prices of the cereal in the markets.

The DA pooled all 10 rice-producing provinces in a consultative meeting on Nov. 16 in San Juan City as a first step towards joint efforts to boost rice production.

“I really appreciate Secretary Kiko’s (Laurel) effort to touch base with stakeholders,” said Nueva Elijah Gov. Aurelio Umali, whose province is the country’s biggest producer of rice, accounting for nine percent of national production.

“This is the first time that local government units are being given the opportunity to address the concerns of their respective provinces. I believe that this kind of leadership he is starting will benefit not only my province but also the country’s food security,” he added.

Isabela Gov. Rodolfo Albano III said the meeting would foster cooperation among various stakeholders in rice production.

“The meeting turned out well. Because that should be the first priority for the Secretary to sit down with stakeholders. The cooperation he is engendering is welcome. With those who can help him, we will be able to implement the programs. We will be able to put things in order,” Albano said.

For her part, Maguindanao del Sur Gov. Bai Mariam Mangudadatu said she looks forward to the mechanization of farming process to increase rice yields in her province.

“It’s a very good start for the Secretary to speak with the governors of the top ten rice-producing provinces. This is the first time this happened since I became a governor for two terms. At the same time, PhilMech (Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization) program abides well for us. In the history of the province, we have not been reached by any Philmech project,” she said.

Philmech gets support from the Rice Tariffication Law, with substantial amounts set aside for the procurement of machines and farm implements.

Pangasinan Gov. Ramon Guico III said local officials could help bridge the gap between the DA and their constituents, citing the direct links of the local government units (LGUs) to the farmers.

Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba said local knowledge is crucial so that solutions to agricultural problems are tailored to the peculiarities of the regions, while Bukidnon Gov. Rogelio Neil Roque said his provincial agriculture team is set to submit a list of priorities to Secretary Laurel.

Other provincial leaders who met with Laurel were Tarlac Gov. Susan Yap and Camarines Sur Gov. Luigi Villafuerte. North Cotabato Gov.

Emmylou Mendoza who could not make it to the consultative meeting sent her representatives.

“Everybody has the same idea. We arrived at a new set of deliberations. That was fast,” Laurel noted, obviously pleased with the outcome of the consultation, and agreeing to meet regularly for updates.

With the government spending about P40 billion in yearly subsidies on the rice subsector, Rep. Villafuerte said the Agriculture department under Laurel’s the watch could consider using this amount to subsidize small farmers tilling some one million hectares with P40,000 per hectare.

Villafuerte, who had served as a three-term governor of Camarines Sur, deemed one of the country’s biggest palay producers, suggested that the target farmer-beneficiaries in the “Top 10” palay-producing provinces be selected by the DA in collaboration with the LGUs.

“Contrary to the contention of our agriculture officials that selling rice at P20 a kilo, although possible, cannot happen in the near future, market rates of P20 and P30 a kilo are actually doable starting next year, if we were to adopt now a novel palay productivity program involving the grant of a pre-planting subsidy of P40,000 per hectare to target farmer-beneficiaries tilling a total of a million hectares in our 10 biggest palay-producing provinces, but on condition that these farmers sell their produce to the government at P9 a kilo,” Villafuerte explained.

“With a projected total yield of five billion kilograms (kg) of palay per one million hectares, based on an average output of five metric tons or 5,000 kg per hectare, this novel subsidy-cum-contract-growing proposal will translate into three billion kilograms of rice, at the palay-to-rice, after a milling conversion rate of 60 percent,” Villafuerte added.

He also elaborated that under his proposal, farmer-beneficiaries will be required to sell their produce to the government at a fixed rate of P9/kg of palay, This means the government will have to set aside P45 billion for this proposed palay procurement component of the subsidy plan.

In buying the farmers’ produce after already giving them P40,000 each before the start of the planting season, Villafuerte said this will encourage the target beneficiaries to produce more from their respective farms as they will be paid P9 for every kilo of palay they are able to produce.

To further incentivize the farmer-beneficiaries to produce more of the grain from their croplands, he said that cash prizes and/or farm machinery like power tillers and harvesters, fertilizers and other inputs can be offered under this rice productivity plan to the beneficiary-farmers garnering the highest per-hectare yields in the chosen provinces, he said.

Cash prizes or other rewards could also be given to the LGUs of the provinces where their farmer-beneficiaries achieved the highest yields per hectare of land, Villafuerte said.

During Villafuerte’s watch as three-term governor from 2004 to 2013, Camarines Sur, according to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS), became the country’s 12th biggest rice producer in 2008 and a higher No. 8 in 2011, and No. 4 in 2016.

The proposed selling rates of P20 to P30 per kilo of rice are just about half or two-thirds of the current market rates, which, according to the National Statistics Authority (NSA), stood in mid-October at P51.57/kg for well-milled rice and P45.78 for regular-milled rice.

“Of the final, post-milling rice output of 3 billion kg of the staple, the government can sell 1.5 billion kg or half of it at P20 a kilo through the President’s pet project Kadiwa ng Pangulo outlets nationwide for poor and other low-income families, and the remaining

1.5 billion kg at a higher P30 via retail markets for the benefit of other consumers,” Villafuerte said.

The government will earn P30 billion from selling 1.5 billion kilos of rice at P20 and P45 billion more from selling the other 1.5 billion kg at the higher P30 kilo, or a total of P75 billion, he said.

“Thus, at the end of this undertaking, the government will have spent just P10 billion in subsidies for the rice productivity program—in lieu of the current P40 billion—after collecting P75 billion in rice sales and deducting this amount from the P85 billion set aside for the farmers’ subsidy-and-grains-procurement plan,” Villafuerte said.

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