Solon pushes for farm mechanization to help solve rice woes

MANILASenator Cynthia Villar on Tuesday urged government agencies to hasten farm mechanization, as rice liberalization alone would not be enough to ensure the competitiveness of Philippine rice and solve the country's rice woes.

Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, said while the government is moving to liberalize the importation of rice following the scrapping of the quantitative restriction (QR) imposed by the World Trade Organization (WTO), actions should also be taken to improve the competitiveness of our rice farmers.

The QR, a preferential trade deal secured by the Philippines after becoming a WTO member in 1995, prevents the influx of cheap rice from abroad to protect local farmers from foreign competition.

The country has been imposing the QR for years but chose not to renew it with the WTO in June last year.

The removal of QR paves the way for traders to import additional volumes of rice from Southeast Asian countries on a 35-percent tariff, the maximum amount agreed by members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to be imposed on rice.

However, Villar said even a 35-percent tariff under a liberalized scheme is not enough to help Filipino farmers become globally competitive.

Even at the maximum rate, Vietnamese rice would still be cheaper than rice produced in the Philippines, the senator said.

Villar said this is because the cost of production in Vietnam is PHP6 per kilo of palay while it is at PHP 12 per kilo in the country.

She said the biggest cost difference between the two countries is labor.

"In Vietnam, the cost of labor to produce a kilo of palay is PHP1.20 as compared to PHP4.60 in the Philippines. This could be overcome through mechanization, Villar said.

She also pointed out that mechanization would address the seeming lack of interest of the children of farmers in farming.

The children of our farmers do not want to plant palay manually anymore. With mechanization, they will be once more attracted to their farms because they will be operating machines from planting to harvesting, Villar said.

In the meantime, the lawmaker said she expressed joy that the Department of Finance has agreed to create a Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund that is to be funded by a PHP10-billion annual allocation in the General Appropriations Act.

She said all rice tariffs would go into the fund, which would then be used to teach rice farmers how to mechanize and produce good seeds, as well as to provide them with machines.

With mechanization and good seeds, our farmers could increase their production from four metric tons to six metric tons per hectare. That means a 50-percent increase in their production and income, she said.

If we could do that, I think we could compete with Vietnam easily, and that solves the problem, Villar said.

The lawmaker assured that provisions on mechanization and good seeds would be part of the rice tariffication bill that she would soon be taking up at the plenary.

We will put all these provisions in the lawthat this money would be for mechanization, this would be for good seeds and so on. Hopefully, we could make our rice farmers competitive in the long run and as soon as possible, Villar said. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency

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