Bantay Bigas Calls for Land Distribution during Dialogue with NFA Council
Bantay Bigas also pressed for adequate subsidies and support services for farmers. They further recommended that the government allocate adequate funds for agriculture and restore the P8 billion to P15 billion subsidy of the NFA.
Irrigation facilities should also be set up right away. In order to increase rice production, rice-processing facilities, rice dryers and other post harvest facilities should also be set up.
The NFA council is led by Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Proceso Alcala. He told Bantay Bigas that the DA is aggressively implementing programs and projects on irrigation, post harvest facilities. Alcala added that the DA also supports conventional and organic farming, depending on which method farmers choose. The DA also conducts trainings and research in order to attain its goal of rice self-sufficiency.
Alcala believes that the P2.5 billion allotted to the NFA to procure palay is adequate for one year. He added that the government will only import one-third of the amount of rice that was imported last year. The remaining two-thirds will be imported by the private sector. Groups worry however that once the private sector starts to import the majority of rice, prices of the staple food will increase, as rice traders who are not mandated to provide affordable rice to the people may be more interested in gaining a profit.
Due to the steady increase in rice prices, poor people are unable to buy enough rice. Bantay Bigas requested the NFA Council to reduce the market price of rice to P18.25 per kilo or at most P20 per kilo. Bantay Bigas said that is the price affordable to the poor. They added that the NFA rice that is being sold for P27 per kilo to as high as P35 per kilo in some parts of the country. NFA prices are almost the same as commercial rice. Bantay Bigas asked the NFA Council to identify the beneficiaries of the P27 per kilo rice and to see how many they were. Anakpawis Representative Rafael Mariano, who also attended the meeting, reiterated Bantay Bigas’ proposal. He added that this could be discussed during the Economic Managers’ Meeting.
Mariano suggested that the DA and the Department of Social Welfare and Development can make an arrangement whereby the DSWSD advances its funds for rice procurement to the NFA. The NFA can then use this fund to procure palay instead of taking out a bank loan. The two government agencies can agree on the price of rice and then the DA can deduct the price of rice from the amount advanced by the DSWD. Mariano further stated that the quantity that can be purchased from the local production is 860,000 MT (about 5%).
Secretary Alcala asked Bantay Bigas how all its recommendations would be funded. Bantay Bigas proposed that the government review policies that liberalized Philippine agriculture. The removal of tariffs on agricultural products and other products entering the country and the tax exemptions offered to foreign investors amount to billions of pesos, which can be spent in revitalizing the agriculture sector by implementing Bantay Bigas’ recommendations.