Stakeholders appeal for tariff exemption on rice seeds

VARIOUS farmers’ organizations, rice millers and producers on Monday appealed to Malacañang to veto some provisions in the proposed Rice Tariffication Bill which is expected to be signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte anytime soon.

Among the objectionable provisions, they said, is the proposed imposition of tariff on imported rice seedlings, particularly hybrid rice seeds.

Former Agriculture official and now SL Agritech Technical Adviser Francisco Malabanan, in a press conference said the proposal will have great effect on the farmers.

The proposed rice tariffication would affect the farmers especially those planting hybrid seeds as the country lacks big compact areas which the technology needs to produce them,” he said.

Malabanan projects an increase of 35 percent to 50 percent in the prices of imported hybrid rice seeds if the proposed measure becomes a law.

“If you had to follow the proposed rice tariffication, the increase on imported hybrid seeds would be around 35-50 percent,” he said.

For now, Malabanan said, majority of hybrid rice seeds are being produced locally in Davao Oriental, Davao del Sur and parts of Luzon.

“Just give us compact areas to produce hybrid rice seeds so we don’t need to import. We can produce, we just need more compact rice areas so we can produce,” he said.

Senator Cynthia Villar earlier said that the President has already certified as urgent the rice tariffication bill to protect Filipino farmers from the influx of imported grains as a result of the removal of quantitative restriction being imposed by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Villar, chair of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, said that farmers were being misled by some groups who are against tariffication to protect their own vested interests.

“Unlike claims that tariffication will result to flooding of imported rice to Philippine market, this will make such importation beneficial to local rice producers,” she said.

The rice industry, Villar said, is set to be liberalized due to expiration of quantitative restriction (QR) on June 30, 2017.

“When your liberalized without tariff, the farmers will suffer),” she said.

For his part, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol has assured that safety nets are in place for local rice farmers once the National Food Authority (NFA) stops selling subsidized rice and when the agency’s approved rice imports are depleted.

Piñol said the NFA’s subsidized rice being sold in the market at PHP27 a kilo would have to be discontinued, as the agency “cannot afford subsidized rice anymore.”

Under the current setup, the NFA is tasked to buy rice from farmers and sell it at PHP27 and PHP32, which is cheaper compared to commercial rice.

The proposed Rice Tariffication Law, approved by Congress last November, will remove the NFA’s power to import and distribute cheaper rice.

The proposed measure shall leave the agency with the sole task of buying grains from farmers to maintain buffer stocks for calamities and emergencies. It will also allow the “continuous inflow” of imported rice, which will raise supplies and bring down prices.

Villar said under the tariffication bill, a PHP10-billion a year Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) will be allocated which is now included in the pending 2019 national budget.

The amount will be channeled through the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization, Philippine Rice Research Institute, and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority and among other agencies to upgrade farmers technology and know-how.

However, Malabanan noted that the importation of hybrid seeds is not included in the proposed measure.

“In the proposed RCEF, procurement of imported hybrid seed is not included. What was stated is only the inbred seed production and promotion. They need to include hybrid seeds as this is the latest technology to help the farmers increase their yield and be able to compete, and improve rice production in the country,” he said.

“The PHP10-billion RCEF is not enough to attain self-sufficiency in rice. It needs more funds for extension services. Aside from procuring hybrid rice seeds, the farmers also need support for fertilizers, and education of farmers on the appropriate way to rice farming,” he added. (PNA)