Agricultural groups seek better credit access, irrigation

Danessa Rivera - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine agricultural groups are pushing for enhancement support, better access to credit and improved irrigation in the sector as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will take effect starting June 2.

Various agricultural groups launched “Bantay RCEP, Buy Filipino” campaign yesterday, which seeks an independent people’s oversight on the RCEP based on the guiding principles of food self-sufficiency and engagement in government.

“This is unprecedented, almost all of the major agriculture-based groups in the country, united and actively opposing RCEP. The Marcos administration would not be able to dismiss this open declaration,” Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) chairperson emeritus Rafael Mariano said during the event.

He rallied more farmers in the country to express their opposition against RCEP, as upholding of their right to livelihood, food self-sufficiency and self-reliance.

“We sincerely hope all of the farmers in the country, and agricultural-based sectors, to decisively defend Philippine agriculture and demand the repeal of RCEP,” Mariano said.

As various farmers remain steadfast against RCEP, some agricultural groups raised concerns in the agriculture sector that need to be addressed by government to help the local sector survive once RCEP goes into effect.

Sugar Council representative Rafael Coscolluela said the government needs to support the productivity improvement and competitiveness enhancement or measures needed by the entire Philippine agriculture sector.

“Not just sugar, but all agricultural products. We need to have a competitiveness enhancement and productivity improvement program that works for the benefit of producers so they can cope in the face of RCEP,” he said in a press briefing.

He also noted that most products imported by the Philippines receive support or subsidy from their governments—a situation which local products lack.

“How can we compete against subsidized importation of food products which have export subsidies, financing subsidies or other forms of government support that we do not have? Under these circumstances, it is impossible to expect the Philippine agriculture industry to be able to compete against imports,” Coscolluela said.

He urged government to pay attention to the call of local agricultural producers.

“Allow us to compete under fair circumstances and not against subsidies offered by other governments,” Coscolluela said.

Meanwhile, Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) chairman Leonardo Montemayor also raised the concern over access to credit.

“If small farmers do not have access to affordable and timely loans, it is difficult to modernize the sector, to buy new machinery, adopt farming techniques and new plating materials,” he said.

The country’s lack of irrigation program also prevents the agriculture sector from advancing away from being rice-centric.

“If we don’t have comprehensive and effective irrigation program, I don’t see how we can compete, not just for rice, also high value crops. Right now, our irrigation program is very much rice focused. We can’t diversify because there is no very clear program on how to promote with the use of irrigation technologies, like drip irrigation, solar powered irrigation systems etc.,” Montemayor said.

The FFF said it would continue to push for access to credit and irrigation program to help the agriculture sector amid RCEP.

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