THE Department of Agriculture (DA) said it supports an extension of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), with an adjusted budget allocation per year.

“Definitely, I think it should be extended. But there should be adjustments so we can adapt to the times,” Agriculture Secretary Francisco P. Tiu Laurel, Jr. told reporters.

Mr. Laurel added that the DA is finalizing its proposal on adjustments to the funding allocated to RCEF.

“Only P10 billion goes into RCEF. It should be increased. We also have to invest more on postharvest facilities and mechanization,” he said.

He added that some funds may also be allocated for fertilizer distribution to farmers to increase their yields.

“Right now, about 12% to 15% of our rice production is wasted because there are no post-harvest facilities… Reducing waste means more income for farmers,” Mr. Laurel said.

The RCEF is intended to modernize the rice industry and is funded by import tariffs generated as a result of Republic Act 11203, or the Rice Tariffication Law.

The fund supports the supply of machinery, seed, and fertilizer, among others, to farmers. Some P10 billion worth of rice tariffs finance support RCEF. The tariff allocations are set to expire in June.

He said that the allocation for RCEF should vary with the amount of tariffs collected.

The Philippines collected P30 billion in rice tariffs in 2023, according to the Bureau of Customs.

“Every year the collection is different, so it should be a percentage. (The budget) needs to be raised … If possible, it should be reviewed every year,” Mr. Laurel said. 

The Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech) gets a P5 billion allocation from RCEF to fund the distribution of farm machinery.

The Philippine Rice Research Institute handles the distribution of certified inbred seed to farmers.

Senator Cynthia A. Villar proposed an extension of RCEF for another six years, with an increased budget of P20 billion per year. Likewise, Nueva Ecija Rep. Rosanna V. Vergara also filed a bill seeking an RCEF extension.  

Meanwhile, Mr. Laurel said that the National Food Authority (NFA) needs to regain its ability to influence rice prices and not be limited to buying rice from farmers to build reserves.

The Rice Tariffication Law stripped the NFA of its power to import; instead, private traders were allowed to bring in rice with no restrictions, but have to pay a 35% tariff on grain sourced from Southeast Asia. — Adrian H. Halili