On 2017 lifting of rice import restriction Rep. Yap seeks for agri modernization program

Angeline Valencia (The Freeman) - November 30, 2015 - 9:00am

TAGBILARAN CITY, Philippines – With the lifting of quantitative rice import restrictions by 2017 due to the ASEAN Economic Integration Program, the plight of Filipino farmers will fall into a bad situation, as they could hardly compete with those from other countries.

This was the reason why Representative Arthur Yap (3rd distrcit, Bohol) was compelled to push for the establishment of the country’s grains modernization program to prepare the local farmers before the import restrictions are lifted and all import volumes will be free.

The “40-percent duty on rice shipments for a yearly ‘minimum access volume’ of 350,000 tonnes” will only be until July 2017. “The consumers may benefit from it, but it will kill the farmers,” said Yap.

“We have to prepare because right now, even on a per-hectare basis, Philippine farms are producing more per hectare, the price and cost of producing rice in the Philippines is more expensive and when the quantitative restrictions is lifted by 2017 and everything opens up, it would be hard to compete,” said the Bohol solon.

At present in Vietnam, Thailand and other countries, a 100-percent premium grain rice can be bought at P25 per kilo. “This is why I believe I need to file a legislation on Comprehensive Grains Modernization Program, not only for rice, but also for corn and possibly soya beans and other grains,” he said.

Yap said the modernization program will ensure that the national government can provide farmers with the basic farm input.

He said there are now 101 million Filipinos and the number is growing. “How will you support each Filipino on rice alone? We need chicken, fish pork. Here in Bohol, every event there is lechon. But you cannot do that without corn. You cannot do that without other support for grains, to support for feeds,” he said.

Yap’s grains modernization proposal would involve a national seeds program to achieve self-sufficiency in grains. “How can you have a seeds program when you are importing seeds from China, Thailand or India? In 2008, in my experience as secretary of agriculture, when there was a crisis, all the countries shut down. You couldn’t buy seeds,”

Yap’s proposal would also include a national post-harvest drying program. “There is no silver bullet to agriculture. From water to warehousing, to seeds, to post-harvest, we need a modernization program. This is very critical for us,” he said.

The warehouses and more drying facilities will help save the farm wastage, he said. “Even without adding more rice fields, converting the wastage into output will already be additional produce. Building more warehouses and more drying facilities can spare the 15-percent wastage at current rate. Immediately you save 15 percent on you national import volume by building drying facilities,” Yap said.

The congressman said he wanted his House grains modernization bill, which will cover all support measures to ensure stability of the grains industry in the country. He said further there must also be financial and insurance subsidies so that when the calamities come, there will seeds-support subsidy.

“When the typhoon comes, rice fields are damaged. We need a national insurance for agriculture, then we need post-harvest and drying facilities and we need to do it now because by 2017 we no longer have protection,” Yap said.

Yap also proposed a bill to provide subsidy to farmers, like water irrigation rights, of which irrigation facilities should be the direct subsidy to the farmers.

“Water is free but unfortunately, the irrigation facilities that we build are not free. You use money to build irrigation channels and irrigation canals. That is why the issue is if we want to charge our farmers irrigation fees then it should be in the concept of maintaining fees not as payment to debt. For many years, many of our farmers are being charged for irrigation facilities like utang. And that’s what I’m trying to convince the National Irrigation Administration to give up. Nasabtan nako na dili naman libre ang pagtukod sa atong irrigation facilities. But di naman dapat utang sa farmers,” Yap explained.

To address poverty is to address the plight of farmers, he said. “I want to pass that legislation to help our farmers. When you talk about poverty in the Philippines, you’re talking about rural poverty. It’s not urban poverty. When you say poverty karon in the Philippines, mga kabus, it’s mga mag-uuma,” Yap added. (FREEMAN)

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