By Gerry Albert Corpuz and Gloria Madonna Velarde
MANILA, Philippines-A rice watchdog in the Philippines on Saturday urged the Manila government to free fresh loan it intends to provide small rice farmers from exorbitant interest and collateral requirement just to avail of the P 400 million devised by the agriculture department and the state-owned Land Bank of the Philippines.
In a press statement sent to local media, a copy of which was furnished to all voices, the alliance network Bantay Bigas (Rice Monitor) welcomed the P 400 million loan assistance.
“If the government can afford to dole out Php billions through its conditional cash transfer (CCT) program for something unrelated to beneficiaries’ productive skills, it should all the more extend interest-free capital assistance to our farmers producing the country’s primary staple”, says Lita Mariano, Bantay Bigas spokesperson.
But Mariano, a peasant herself from Pampanga criticized the DA and the LBP for requiring farmers to put their irrigated rice farms as collateral for the loans they will avail from the government.
“It is insensitive on the part of the government to collect such a high interest rate on loans from the farmers and even ask for collateral especially at this time when our rice farmers are among the most adversely affected by the typhoons that hit the country since 2009 through 2011”, Mariano says.
The rice watch spokeswoman said the DA and the LBP require farmers to pay 15% interest per year for the first two cropping seasons to be gradually reduced by one percent in the succeeding cropping season up to the 6th cropping season.
“If the government is sincere in helping rice farmers get back on their feet and encourage them to produce more rice to help attain rice self-sufficiency for the country, it should provide these loans without interest and without collateral”, adds Mariano.
Bantay Bigas noted that during the green revolution under the MASAGANA 99 program of the late dictator President, thousands of rice farmers ended up bankrupt and landless as they were unable to pay up their loans due to high costs of production from expensive insecticides and pesticides.
The latter were needed by the high yielding varieties of rice they were required to purchase in exchange for subsidies. The DA and the LBP is targeting the four provinces of Isabela, Nueva Ecija, Iloilo and North Cotabato as recipients of the Php400M loan.
Aside from interest- and collateral-free loans for rice farmers, Bantay Bigas also calls on the government to re-channel the Php billions allotted to its CCT program under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or 4Ps of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to increase the National Food Authority’s 2012 budget of only Php4 billion for palay procurement.
“The NFA failed to achieve its targeted procurement of 5% of the country’s total palay production in 2011 or 870,000 metric tons (MT) and instead only bought 280,382MT precisely because of its limited palay procurement budget which was only P2.5 billion in 2011” asserted Mariano.
The NFA argued it needed Php14.8 billion to buy the 870,000MT of palay it set to procure from local farmer in 2011. Ironically, while the government allotted only Php2.5 billion for local palay procurement, it allotted US $120.6 million or Php5.2 billion (at US$1 : Php43.31 average exchange rate for 2011) to import 251,300MT of palay in 2011.
t has also foregone Php billions in potential revenues from tariffs on rice importations by private traders through its tax exemption subsidy scheme (TES) provided to private traders for their imports of 595,874.36MT of rice (4,125.64MT short of its 600,000MT 2011 allocation).
“If the government is really serious about attaining rice self-sufficiency for the country by 2013, it should heed our specific calls which includes among others, free land redistribution under a genuine agrarian reform program”, challenged Mariano.
President Noynoy Aquino’s land acquisition and distribution (LAD) accomplishment through the extended comprehensive agrarian reform program (CARP/ER) by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is the slowest compared to the past administrations.
Independent think tank IBON Foundation calculated that at the pace of the DAR’s LAD of 8,957 hectares per month under President Noynoy Aquino, it would need an additional 5.6 years to complete the DAR’s target of distributing the whole of the 1.9 million hectares under CARP/ER.
“Amid the government’s target of rice self sufficiency is the slow paced LAD and continuing land grabbing and conversion of rice farms to non-food uses. Government’s reversal of these trends is yet to be seen as a gauge of sincerity in achieving rice self-sufficiency for the country”, ends Mariano.