by Sheila Mae H. Toreno

ILOILO CITY— Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol urged farmers of Region 6 to continue planting rice as the government has guaranteed P10 billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) every year to improve the sector.

“For the first time, the rice industry will be getting funding never before given to the industry in the past. We are right now focusing on our rice farmers because of the threat of the rice tariffication. For as long as we focus on increasing our productivity, there is really no reason for us to be afraid of the rice tariffication,” Piñol told farmers during his Biyaheng Bukid on April 25 in Jaro, Iloilo City.

RCEF will be generated from the tariff paid by private traders and businessmen in importing rice from other countries. According to Piñol, P5 billion will be allotted for rice mechanization, P3 billion for seeds, P1 billion for easy access credit, and P1 billion for farmers’ capability training.

When the volume of rice importation reached two million metric tons this year, the government is expecting to generate about P28 billion collection from the tariff.

The DA secretary allayed fears of the rice farmers that imported rice will flood the local market with the enactment of the Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Trade Liberalization Law.

“Don’t be afraid of the imported because we have better rice. The government will provide necessary support from seeds to loaning program for fertilizer and equipment, and irrigation. Kadamuan makadto sa (majority of it will go to) Iloilo and other areas here,” Piñol emphasized.

Local rice production in 2018 reached 19.05 million metric tons. With the RCEF, the agri chief is optimistic that palay production will increase and attain the 21 million metric tons production volume or 100 percent sufficiency level.

“Maybe five years from now, Vietnam, Thailand and all the other rice exporting countries will not be able to export the same volume of rice that they are exporting today. Because while the population is growing, the land is not expanding. The land resources are finite but the population is growing exponentially.” Piñol said.

The agri chief emphasized that farmers should plant high yielding varieties to attain higher yield.

“This October, you are assured of at least one bag of seeds at P20 kilograms for each and every Filipino rice farmer. You can choose what [rice] variety to plant,” Piñol told the farmers.

On the other hand, the insufficient fertilizer application leads to a lower yield of palay. With that, the DA will offer a fertilizer loaning program which has no interest, no collateral and is payable after every harvest.

Rice farmers can also loan up to nine bags of fertilizer for every hectare as the DA obtained concession with a private firm connected to the Russian government to extend fertilizer loans of about P30 billion to Planters Products Inc.

Based on the recommendation of the Philippine Rice Research Institute, four bags of triple 14, four bags of urea, and one bag of muriate of potash shall be applied in every hectare to ensure higher rice yield.

“Farmers can gain additional one to two tons in production when the fertilizer applied is sufficient, “Pinol said.

Apart from seeds and fertilizer, DA also aims to address farmers’ problem on irrigation.

“I have obtained a loan fund from Israel of about P44 billion for the establishment of 6,200 units of solar-powered irrigation system nationwide. We will irrigate 500,000 hectares of rice farms. And I would like to assure the people of Iloilo, kadamuan sina diri makadto sa inyo. Because Iloilo is the traditional rice production area. Your problem here is insufficient irrigation,” he said.

He explained that DA has two designs for solar-powered irrigation. The first type is intended to irrigate 50 to 80 hectares of rice farms and there should be a river or a creek as a source of water. On the other hand, a 1.5 hp submersible pump powered by 8-solar panels can be accessed by individual farmers to irrigate two to five hectares.

Piñol led the distribution of P16.89 million-worth of farm machinery and equipment to the different farmers’ associations in the region. This includes six units of rice combine harvester worth P2 million each, three units of transplanter at P420,000 per unit, 14 rice reapers at P100,000 each, and 29 units of granule applicator at P50,000 each.

“Our mechanization rate in the Philippines is very low. While Japan is already about 12 hp per hectare, we are only at 2 hp level. In order for our farmers to be competitive, we must mechanize. This is a very important component in rice farming,” he said.

He lauded Regional Executive Director Remelyn Recoter for sustaining Western Visayas as one of the most active regions in farm machinery and equipment distribution.

Furthermore, a total of P1,148,141 worth of indemnity checks for crop insurance were given today to 156 rice farmers from the six towns in Iloilo.