THE Department of Agriculture (DA) said the repayment rate on its loan program for farmers fell this year because of damage to crops caused natural calamities last year.

In a social media post Saturday, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said environmental conditions in 2018 put borrowers in an unfavorable position to repay debt incurred under the government’s Production Loan Easy Access (PLEA) program.

“The national repayment rate is 91%, down from 98% last year, mainly due to the damage caused by typhoons,” he said.

Mr. Piñol said PLEA has disbursed P1.7 billion worth of loans to farmers since it was launched in June 2017.

The loan program is intended to assist farmers in remote locations with little to no access to banks. It offers an annual interest rate of 6% to borrowers with no collateral.

Mr. Piñol said this year, the DA has a budget of P3.4 billion for its Easy Access Credit Program, which it wants to use as a mechanism to eventually phase out farm subsidies.

“For this year, the Easy Access Credit Program has a budget of P3.4-B with four program components all aimed at helping farmers and fishermen improve their productivity,” he said.

The DA remains positive of the program’s viability as a means of assistance to farmers, with the department recognizing three farmers from the Dumagat and B’laan tribes Friday for being able to repay 100% of their loans.

“The loan program has benefitted first-time borrowers like the three tribal families and penetrated 54 unbanked areas,” Mr. Piñol said. — Denise A. Valdez