"This program can serve as a model for other LGUs."
We wrote recently about the Palay Price Support Program of the Nueva Ecija Provincial Government. We pointed out that it is a big step forward in helping small rice farmers now reeling from loss of income and difficult living conditions because of the Rice Tariffication Law that has flooded the country with cheap imported rice since 2019.
In fact, we believe this program can serve as a model for local government units in other rice-producing areas in helping farmers recover from the adverse effects of the law.
That's what no less Agriculture Secretary William Dar is saying: “I encourage all Local Government Units to adopt Nueva Ecija’s localized palay procurement program. I like that model and I want to see it in the top ten rice-producing provinces.”
While the deregulation of the rice industry has benefited consumers who now have access to affordable rice, it has at the same time driven rice farmers throughout the country deeper into poverty because they cannot cope with the cheap prices of the staple from countries like Thailand and Vietnam.
The Rice Tariffication Law removed the regulatory functions of the National Food Authority (NFA) over rice importation and streamlined the process of acquiring import permits.
As a result, big corporations with unlimited capital have managed to monopolize the industry and import huge amounts of cheap imported rice. In 2019, the Philippines imported over 3 million metric tons of rice, giving us the dubious distinction of being the world’s biggest rice importer that year.
The PPSP, first implemented in 2019 by the Nueva Ecija Provincial Government headed by Governor Aurelio Umali, seeks to augment the income of marginalized farmers affected by weak palay prices by giving them remunerative assistance.
The Nueva Ecija Provincial Food Council (NEPFC) initiated the program due to the sharp decline in palay prices from the liberalized policy on rice importation.
With reduced palay prices, local farmers, already considered among the poorest of the poor, stand to suffer from the significant drop in farm income that threatens their economic well-being.
Under the program, the provincial government directly purchases the harvest of beneficiary farmers for a premium price higher than the prevailing farmgate price at the time of procurement. Palay procured under the program will eventually be processed and traded by the provincial government in its dry form or as Malasakit Rice which is then sold at an affordable price to consumers and institutional buyers.
Apart from the Agriculture Secretary, city and town mayors in the province have likewise expressed unequivocal support for the program.
For Mayor Jose R. Dizon of Guimba: “Small farmers in our town only cultivate 1 to 3 hectares of farmland and even borrow money for capital.
What's sad is that traders often offer an unreasonably low price for their palay. Instead of earning just enough profit to meet their basic needs, our farmers even suffer losses and go deep into debt. The program is truly a welcome development for our farmers, and we thank Governor Umali.”
For his part, Mayor Jobby P. Emata of Gabaldon town said: “Nueva Ecija is fortunate to be at the forefront of this crucial intervention of the provincial government in the agriculture sector. The Provincial Food Council is purchasing the produce of our farmers and thus propping up the farmgate price of palay.”
Mayor Mario O. Salvador of San Jose City: “We in San Jose City are grateful to the Provincial Government for this program that stabilizes the farmgate prices of palay. As a local Chief Executive myself, I salute the good Governor for this program that responds to the cry for help of Novo Ecijano farmers.”
Mayor Vina E. Lopez of San Isidro: “Although Nueva Ecija is the top rice-producing province in the country, our farmers are not spared from unreasonable farmgate prices of palay. Our local farmers make great sacrifices in pursuing their livelihood but traders take advantage of them. Those of us in local government units should complement each other’s efforts and provide better and more responsive services to our constituents."
In the end, it's the small farmers who really stand to benefit from the PPSP. Jose Galang of Santor, Bongabon, speaking in Tagalog, believes that "it's an excellent program" since traders now offer them low prices. "If we have very meager harvest, why should we sell to them if we cannot recover the costs? Right from the start, we realized that Governor Umali was really concerned for our well-being. Thank you, Governor."
Elmer Sayton of Antipolo, Bongabon agrees with his fellow farmer: "We have a compassionate Governor who has offered to buy our palay at a better price. Some traders have offered us P17.50 per kilo. We cannot afford to lose just one peso for every kilo. With the Governor's program, we expect a better price for our palay harvest. I thank you in advance. You have renewed our faith in rice farming because of your program."