Senator Villar eyes P10-B rice competitiveness fund

Senator Cynthia Villar is eyeing PHP10 billion for the rice competitiveness enhancement fund to help rice farmers mechanize and produce good seeds.

Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, said the move will help rice farmers who will be affected by the scrapping of the quantitative restriction (QR) on the importation of rice.

Villar explained that the government will have to liberalize the importation of rice and abandon its protectionist rice policies in compliance with its obligations to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The QR, a preferential trade deal secured by the Philippines after becoming a TWO member in 1995, prevents the influx of cheap rice from abroad to protect local farmers from foreign competition. The country has been imposing the QR for years but chose not to renew it with the WTO in June last year.

The removal of QR paves way for traders to import additional volumes of rice from Southeast Asian countries on a 35-percent tariff. The collected tariffs will then be used to fund mass irrigation, warehousing, and rice research.

Villar noted that liberalizing rice imports has been certified by the President as an urgent “to help ease inflation and bring down prices of the food staple by as much as PHP7 per kilo.”

“This is also one of my focus,” she said in an interview on Friday on the sidelines of the mass oath-taking of the Hugpong Pagbabago members in Tagum City.

Earlier, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the national government must spend PHP20 billion to roll out interventions to help rice farmers.

However, Villar said the proposed PHP10 billion could be an initial allocation given that all rice tariffs would go to the rice competitive enhancement fund.

“PHP 10 billion muna tapos lahat ng tariffs pasok ng pasok sa competitive enhancement fund (PHP10 billion first, then all rice tariffs will go to the competitive enhancement fund),” Villar said.

The senator sees the need for farmers to mechanize and produce good seeds to increase production from four metric tons to six metric tons per hectare.

Mechanization also helps farmers cut down on labor cost, which is half of the total production cost, she said.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III earlier said that liberalizing rice imports through the passage into law of the rice tariffication bill now pending in Congress is vital in helping low-income households cope with inflation, given that rice accounts for 20 percent of their consumption.

The bill will complement the social mitigation measures the government is implementing to further ease the impact of inflation on poor households, Dominguez said.