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DA chief backs rice fund extension

17 April 2024

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Agriculture (DA) is supporting the extension of the rice competitiveness enhancement fund (RCEF), and proposes tweaks to the program such as making the allocation more flexible and hiking the budget of key components.

Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. said the RCEF, which lapses this year, should be extended, but emphasized that adjustments are necessary so that the fund would adapt to the needs of the times.

RCEF is a six-year earmarked fund created under Republic Act (RA) 11203 or the rice trade liberalization law that seeks to make local farmers competitive through the provision of seeds, machinery, credit and training.

Tiu Laurel said the department is preparing its position paper on the proposed extension of the RCEF.

The fund is set to expire this year but lawmakers, including Sen. Cynthia Villar, the principal author of RA 11203, have filed bills that seek to extend the RCEF.

Villar wants to extend the RCEF by six more years, with new proposed allocations for excess rice tariffs collected by the state.

Tiu Laurel proposed to increase the guaranteed P10 billion annual allocation of RCEF since total rice tariff collections have been above that amount in recent years.

According to Tiu Laurel, tariff collections reached at least P29 billion in 2023.

Under existing laws, rice tariffs collected by the state in excess of P10 billion would not go to the regular RCEF but would instead fund the financial assistance program for rice farmers.

Tiu Laurel said the share in the overall RCEF of mechanization and post-harvest facilities should be increased to reduce the country’s rice wastage.

He added that a certain percentage of the tariffs collected should also be allocated for the purchase of fertilizer as well as irrigation facilities such as small water impounding projects and solar-powered irrigation systems.

“Right now about 12 percent to 15 percent of our rice produced is wasted because of the lack of post-harvest facilities. Some of the produce are being dried on the roads, so a lot are damaged and wasted,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the inauguration of the expansion of PMFTC Inc.’s factory in Batangas.

“Less wastage would mean more income to the farmers,” he added.

Tiu Laurel also floated the idea of making the RCEF components more flexible by having an annual review of the program and allowing the reallocation of funds to the pressing needs of rice farmers.

“The fund should go where we lack support. For example if we have already mechanized this year then let’s not mechanize again next year. Let’s bring the money where it is needed the most,” Tiu Laurel said.

Source : msn