By DOMINIC GUTOMAN
MANILA — With the La Niña season at hand, a farmers’ group urged the Philippine government to provide more mechanical grain dryers to aid farmers who are harvesting this season, saying that the increased rains are making them scramble to dry their produce.
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas vice chairperson Lito Lumapas said the Department of Agriculture (DA) and National Food Authority (NFA) should have prepositioned working mechanical dryers months before the harvest season. “Now, farmers are scrambling to dry their harvest on pavements or so-called solar dryers depending on good weather conditions,” Lumapas said.
During La Niña season, which officially began on Oct. 15, the increased rainfall and cooler temperature would slow down the drying process of rice grain, particularly in the regions that do not have adequate mechanical support. Farmers who have no access to mechanical grain dryers opt to put their palay along roads, which could adversely affect them during the rainy season.
In the 2016 research from the College of Agriculture, University of the Philippines Los Banos, the post-harvest loss for rice crops was reported to be as high as 10 to 37 percent due to traditional drying, unspecified storage, threshing, and handling.
KMP said the provision of mechanical grain dryers should not be dependent on the farmers’ registry status to the Registry System of Basic Sectors in Agriculture or RSBSA. Notably, the Commission on Audit (COA) revealed that the RSBSA and their farmers’ data are unreliable in providing aid distribution to farmers back, a statement of KMP back in August 2021 read.
Due to this, Lumapas argued that dryers must be readily available to farmers in palay- and corn-producing villages, adding that subsidies must also be granted to farmers’ associations and cooperatives for the operational cost of mechanical dryers.
“For NFA to buy the unmilled rice, the farmers should reach the standard moisture content of palay which is at 14 percent. This calls for a greater need to provide the mechanical dryers,” Lumapas said.
Meanwhile, KMP questioned PhilMech for its low disbursement of the P15-billion ($297.4 million) allocation from the Rice Competitive Enhancement Fund (RCEF) for the past three years. Based on reports, PhilMech disbursed only P859.68 million ($17 million), or six percent of the agency’s total RCEF appropriation and nearly 10 percent of the obligated fund. As of August 2021, PhilMech’s notice of cash allocation was at P11.31 billion ($224.4 million), while the agency only obligated P8.64 billion ($171.4 million).
The RCEF is a mechanism under the Republic Act No. 11203 or the Rice Liberalization Law (RTL), which receives tariffs collected from rice imports. This program has an automatic P10 billion funding annually from 2019 to 2024.
In August 2021, farmers were further burdened with the increased prices of fertilizers.
KMP described the agency’s performance as unsatisfactory as it only achieved 54 percent of its target procurement and distribution of much-needed farm equipment for 2019 and 2020.
At the onset of the pandemic, Filipino farmers were among those that convened the Ayuda Network to demand financial aid for families affected by the pandemic.
Part of the new network’s demand is to push for a P15,000 ($300) agricultural subsidy to address the problems faced by the farmers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the African Swine Fever (ASF), the increasing fertilizer prices, to name a few.