THE Department of Agriculture (DA) said it hopes to add another P3 billion to its unconditional cash assistance fund for more rice farmers severely affected by falling palay prices.

“We are looking at another P3 billion for this coming year,” Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said in a news conference Tuesday in Quezon City, adding that this was agreed upon by agencies involved in implementing the Rice Tariffication Law.

This will supplement the initial P3 billion approved by the Cabinet in October to be sourced from rice tariff collections, beyond the P10 billion a year to be allocated to the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), a component of the Rice Tariffication Law.

The initial P3 billion will benefit 600,000 rice farmers deemed most severely affected by the collapse in palay prices. They will each receive P5,000. Guidelines for this distribution are being finalized by the DA.

“The total of P6 billion (for) 2019 and 2020 will be given as unconditional cash assistance and we will zero in this time around on farmers tilling 1.01 hectare up to two hectares,” he said.

“Another question to be asked, will we only consider the most affected provinces where palay prices are down, or will we consider the 57 provinces where RCEF is being implemented,” he said.

The Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) claims that rice farmers have lost about P60 billion in potential revenue since the implementation of the Rice Tariffication Law, which liberalized rice imports. It said that this could reach P140 billion by the end of the year, equivalent to P30,000 per hectare.

Farmers are seeking cash assistance of P30,000 to make up for their losses.

Mr. Dar said excess collections from tariff on imported rice will fund cash transfers to farmers, crop insurance, and crop diversification support. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang