RICE FARMERS in Isabela province, particularly those who are cultivating land that is one hectare or less, have been urged to join a cooperative or an association to gain access to government assistance and become more competitive. Department of Agriculture (DA) Assistant Secretary Andrew B. Villacorta, in a speech during the distribution of loans under the Expanded Survival and Recovery Assistance (E-SURE Aid) Program in Cabagan, Isabela on Oct. 19, said individual smallholders would find strength in numbers. “Kailangang sumali tayo sa isang kooperatiba, sapagkat kung kayo ay isang kooperatiba, mabibigyan kayo ng mga makinarya kagaya ng (We need to join a cooperative because if you are a cooperative, you can avail of machineries like) tractor at harvester para kayo magiging (so you will be) competitive,” he said. An initial 4,798 rice farmers received cash cards of P15,000 each under the E-SURE Aid Program, intended as an immediate relief to those affected by low palay prices as a result of the Rice Tariffication Law. The terms of the loan program, a partnership between the DA-Agricultural and Credit Policy Council and the Land Bank of the Philippines, includes zero interest, no collateral, payable in eight years, and with minimal requirements through a simplified application process. Isabela Gov. Rodito T. Albano III, in a statement, said 8,500 farmers in the province are expected to benefit from the nationwide program, which has so far also covered the provinces of Nueva Ecija and Tarlac.