Help farmers boost yield, govt urged

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The Duterte administration should first help farmers boost their yields and cut their production and post-harvest costs before lifting limits on imported rice, a lawmaker said Sunday.

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Rep. LRay Villafuerte of Camarines Sur made the call in light of the government’s plan to cut quantitative restrictions (QRs) on rice imports that will allow private traders to buy rice grown outside the county.

“Is there any guarantee that the entry of cheap rice imports will lower the price of rice in the market? The government should provide safety nets to our farmers by, among others, helping them cut production as well as distribution costs and other post-harvest expenses,” Villafuerte said.

“Otherwise, palay farmers will be at the losing end because their produce cannot compete with cheaper rice imports,” he added.

Among the farmers’ groups that expressed worries about the looming lifting of quota on imported rice is the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) which has called on the government to support palay growers by providing them with farm inputs including seeds, irrigation, credit and insurance coverage, as well as support in the post-harvest and marketing stages.

Villafuerte called for the abolition of irrigation fees to make it easier for farmers to pay off their debts.

The supposed removal of QRs is in line with the Philippines’ commitment as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

But Congress has to either repeal or amend provisions of Republic Act 8178 or the Agricultural Tariffication Act, to open the domestic rice market.

Villafuerte filed House Bill 2133 which scraps all Irrigation Service Fees (ISFs) and other irrigation-related charges by restructuring the payment scheme to rates well within the farmers’ means.

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