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A farmer’s Christmas gift


echf ecf JOHNNY DAYANG echoes

OVER the last few months, the country’s agriculture sector had to absorb a series of whammies it did not deserve. After the tariffica­tion law which abolished the state’s rice import monopoly, the industry had its worse ordeal in the African swine flu breakout. Then came the recent devastating tremors in Mindanao that affected thousands of hectares of farmlands.

Against this backdrop, the Sen­ate unanimously passed on Nov. 4, 2019, a joint resolution empower­ing the National Food Authority (NFA) as exclusive buyer of palay (unhusked rice) produced by Filipino farmers. The resolution, an early Christmas gift for peas­ants, mandates the Department of Social Welfare and Development to coordinate with the NFA and to buy from the provinces with oversupply of palay.

If executed strictly and properly, it will serve as “a viable strategy” in allowing farmers to get decent profit, and encourage them to continue their rice production ventures. It will also enable local governments to use NFA stocks as source of rice for feeding programs, calamities, jails, hospitals, and other institutions.

Under the concept, rice bought by NFA will be distributed to Pan­tawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) beneficiaries in place of cash which has become a source of abuse, including the ugly practice of pawning ATM cards as payment for usurious loans.

Under the 4Ps program, beneficia­ries will get 20 kilos of rice monthly, the equivalent of R600 at R30 a kilo. Computed on per-month basis, that would translate to 82 million kilos a month or 19,680,000 million sacks of rice a year. For 2019 alone, the total allocation for rice subsidies in the national budget amounts to R33.9 billion.

Attributed to Sen. Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, the resolu­tion addresses the issue on how best to address farmers’ gripes against discriminatory pricing traced to rice cartels and scrupu­lous traders.

Even more significant is the impact the resolution will create in stabilizing rice supply and pric­ing despite the obvious hurdles that come with the tariffication law. For an agricultural industry that has been through numer­ous challenges, assuring farmers of reasonable income from their lands can translate into a stronger economy.

Nobody is sure yet how the Villar initiative will impact on the way cartels manipulate the rice market. What is clear, though, is that farm­ers, assured of better pricing for their palay, will eventually become independent players outside the circle of opportunistic traders.