Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, is urging the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (Philmech) to continue its mission of supporting rice farmers by providing them with farm machinery and training in order to uplift the lives by boosting their productivity, achieve increase in income eventually making the country’s rice industry competitive against imports and to become food secure.

Why Mechanization?

Mechanization is a crucial input for agricultural crop production and enables farmers to produce crops more efficiently by using less power. Mechanization in rice farming can reduce the difficulty of producing palay which makes it unappealing to young people. Land preparation, harvesting and postharvest activities can be more efficient and effective with the use of machines.  It can increase land productivity by facilitating timeliness and quality of cultivation and reduce harvest and post-harvest losses; relieve the burden of labor shortages and reduce production cost; eventually reducing poverty and achieve food security as farmers can earn more.

However, mechanization is expensive that farmers and even cooperatives cannot afford to own them. Like an answered prayer, farmer’s cooperatives and associations are now gaining access to mechanized rice farming through the grant under the Rice Competitive Enhancement Fund (RCEF) Mechanization Component of implemented by PHilMech.

The Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) or RA11203 was enacted in March 2019 law, which removed the Quantitative Restrictions on Rice (QR) and replaced it with tariffs that created the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) amounting to P10Billion a year as farmer protection against rice imports.

The Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech) has a P5Billion yearly budget to deliver farm machineries to qualified Farmer’s Cooperatives and Associations (FCAs) and local government units (LGUs) up to 2024 and another P100 Million for the training farmers to the new technology and how to maintain them.

Based on the study made by PhilRice and PIDS, which was the basis of the RTL, planting and harvesting in the Philippines is basically manual while drying of palay is done by the roadside with manual farm labor amounting to P4.53 per kilogram (kg) for farm labor or about 36 percent of their total average cost of P12.41 per kg. Thailand and Vietnam have a labor cost of P1.30 per kg and P1.02 per kg respectively.

Post-harvest due to low mechanization level of rice farms bring about least 3 million metric tons of palay losses annually. The target of reducing this post-harvest loss by 2 percent to 3 percent would mean an additional output for farmers of about 80 kilograms to 120 kilograms from the current average of 4,000 kilograms per hectare. This could mean additional income of P1, 280 per hectare to P1, 920 per hectare at a P16 per kilogram average palay price.

The machinery distribution is perhaps one of if not the most aggressive and comprehensive rice mechanization program our government is pursuing.

However, the implementation of the mechanization component started slow. The funds were received only on the third quarter of 2020. This did not deter PhilMech, headed by Engineer Baldwin Jallorina, PhD., as the agency proceeded to validate and identify the beneficiaries of the program to ensure they comply with the government guidelines that they have a minimum 50 hectares of cumulative land, at least 100 hectares of nearby serviceable areas, shed or place to keep the machines properly and willingness to be trained. Hopes are high that this program will enable the Filipino farmers to become globally competitive in rice production and postproduction.

Farmers Cooperatives and Associations (FCAs) were encouraged to want to avail of the program through the Regional DA offices or to they can visit their municipal agriculturist or visit PHilMech website and Facebook page for the list of requirements.

The agricultural machinery distribution is not as easy as it sounds. This agricultural machinery must undergo bidding for suppliers of machine to be identified and selected with transparency. PHilMech continues to make adjustment on how to conduct the bidding, purchasing and distribution of farm machines amid the lockdowns and quarantines, as it realizes how pivotal the RCEF Mechanization Component is in recover of the economy amid the health crisis.

Farmers must also be trained to fully utilize the technologies granted them. The FCAs must be knowledgeable and skilled on the proper use of the technologies so that they can realize the benefits of mechanization. PHilMech continues to hold blended training partly face – to – face and partly online through their training management staff.

It highlights the dedication and commitment of the program implementers amidst existing constraints and limitations.

The initial distribution of machines began in June, 2020 amounting to P10Billion to 947 municipalities in the 57 rice-producing provinces nationwide.

The 2019 budget, PhilMech was utilized in in 928 municipalities, located in 16 Regions, to 55 rice producing provinces, the beneficiaries totaled 2,030 of which 1,967 were FCAs and 63 LGUs. This is composed of production equipment for land preparation and crop establishment totaling 5,980 units made up of 4-wheel tractors, hand tractors and floating tillers, while post production machineries totaled 2,520 units such as threshers, harvesters, and drying and milling equipment.

For the 2020 fund, PhilMech was able to reach 928 municipalities for the benefit of 2,119 FCAs and 158 LGUs in 16 regions of the country.

Despite the logistical concerns and bottlenecks caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, PhilMech was able to do its job. The farmers and their organizations and even the local government units were indeed grateful as they felt the presence of the national government support to them with the arrival of machines, the capacity building and motivations they have received from this government agency.

For 2021 during their midyear evaluation held this July, PhilMech, was able to spread the benefit to 1,515 FCAs, 88 LGUs or a total of 1,603 beneficiaries. The land preparation and crop establishment machineries summed up to 8,500 units while post production machines totaled 1,849 units or a grand a total of 4,540 farm equipment nationwide. They have also started to provide Rice Processing System which completes the process milling, drying and 1 metal silo with 50-100Tons capacity for beneficiaries mostly LGUs to consolidate the supply chain and sell rice directly to consumers. The coops/associations taking advantage of the economies of scale can now sell directly rice to consumers. This would remove the presence of traders in the value chain and provide more income to rice farmers.

As the machines are being managed by the coops or associations, the benefit redounds to the farmers-member who can now pay at a lower cost as compared to that being charged by a service provider for they only are required to shoulder for the diesel and pay a flat rate for maintenance of the machine. Moreover, if the time allows, the coop can offer its services to nearby barangays at the same market price by being a service provider too and earn extra for the organization to lower maintenance cost being charged to members.

An FCA to be entitled must be accredited by DA or any accrediting government agency and with members whose rice farms can cover a cluster of at least 20ha in one to two adjacent villages in one selected city or municipality. For farmer-recipients, must be included in the updated Registry System of the Basic Sectors or RSBSA; and must be farming in rice fields located in the identified rice producing municipalities.

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