THE Department of Agriculture (DA) and government banks have agreed on the mechanisms for disbursing P5,000 worth of cash assistance to rice farmers most affected by the decline in the price of palay, or unmilled rice, due to the Rice Tariffication Law, with payouts to start Dec. 23.

The DA, the Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK), and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) signed a memorandum of agreement on Monday, which sets aside P3 billion for the Rice Farmer Financial Assistance (RFFA) program, an unconditional cash transfer targeted at 600,000 rice farmers. The eligible farmers till between one and a half to two hectares.

The Rice Tariffication Law liberalized the entry of cheap imported rice with a 35% tariff imposed on Southeast Asian grain.

The option to sell imported rice has led private traders to offer softer prices to domestic farmers, with palay currently at P15.52 per kilo, down 22.6% year-on-year. The prices paid by traders are well below the support price offered by the National Food Authority (NFA), which is P19.

As a result, President Rodrigo R. Duterte ordered the immediate implementation of the cash assistance program.

Funding for the program initially came from excess government revenue. Next year, another P3 billion will be allocated to the program, to be divided equally between LANDBANK and DBP to disburse to 300,000 rice farmers each. Funding for next year will be sourced from tariff collections in excess of the P10 billion required to finance the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF). — Vincent Mariel P. Galang

“The roll out will start Dec. 23, and we will do it morning of the 23rd in Pangasinan, and afternoon roll out, as well, in Nueva Ecija. We will have to consider a roll out there because these are the most affected (by) falling rice prices,” Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said during the signing ceremony in Manila Monday.

The government has selected 33 provinces where rice farmers were deemed most severely affected by the price drop.

“We did a comparative price analysis and considered the average marketable surplus, and gains and losses in those provinces, so hindi lahat ng mga probinsya na nakaranas (not all provinces were affected). There are big impacts and small impacts, so talagang doon lang sa mga probinsya na mas mataas yung pagbagsak ng palay prices (we will really focus on provinces where the fall in palay prices was really high),” he said.

He said distributions will be completed in a month’s time, and will come in the form of cash cards from LANDBANK or over-the-counter withdrawals from LANDBANK and DBP conduits and accredited payout centers. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang