P12B in excess rice tariffs eyed for farmer financial assistance program

THE Department of Agriculture (DA) said it plans to tap P12 billion in excess rice import tariff collections to provide financial assistance to farmers.

Agriculture Secretary Francisco P. Tiu Laurel, Jr. said the funds he is considering are tariffs left over after the legally mandated P10 billion a year is set aside for the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF).

“This year we plan to give P12 billion; and then the balance we will be diverting to crop diversification,” Mr. Laurel told reporters.

Under the Rice Tariffication Law of 2019 (Republic Act 11203), the Rice Farmers Financial Assistance (RFFA) program is the designated recipient for tariffs that exceed the RCEF funding requirement.

The RFFA program pays out P5,000 per farmer.

Eligible farmers are those tilling two hectares or less. The payout is being billed as compensation for the projected reduction in income arising from the liberalization of rice imports.

Mr. Laurel added that he is looking at distributing the financial assistance to the 2.4 million rice farmers by September.

“Last year kasi December na lumabas (the funds were released in December) … I’m targeting September for the P12 billion,” he said.

In 2023, rice tariff collections amounted to about P30 billion, according to the Bureau of Customs.

Legislators are seeking an extension to the RCEF’s term beyond the initial six years, while also expanding its allocation from tariffs.

Under the proposed amendments from the House of Representatives, 53% of the expanded, extended RCEF will go to mechanization, 28% to rice seed, and the rest to farm credit and extension services.

Mr. Laurel added that P7 billion of the P8 billion in tariffs left over after the RFFA allocation will go to the crop diversification effort, while P1 billion will support land titling by the Department of Agrarian Reform.

The US Department of Agriculture has estimated that rice imports this year of 4.6 million metric tons (MT) after the government approved the reduced tariff of 15% on imported rice, as authorized by Executive Order No. 62.

Mr. Laurel said the DA is only projecting rice imports of about 3.9 million MT. — Adrian H. Halili