Twin bills mandate govt to buy local farm produce, install drying facilities

Twin bills mandate govt to buy local farm produce, install drying facilities.

Two lawmakers are pushing for the passage of two separate bills that will mandate the government to purchase farm produce from local growers and establish palay drying facilities nationwide to boost farmers’ income and help attain the country’s long-standing goal of achieving food security.

Davao City First  District Rep. Paolo Duterte and Benguet Rep. Eric Yap filed House Bill 3382, which aims to ensure that the national and local governments will source food for their relief and school feeding programs from local farmers.

Complementing this measure is HB 3383, which seeks to appropriate funds for the establishment nationwide of modern rice drying facilities that will be accessible to farmers for free.

Duterte and Yap said these twin measures support the government’s priority goals of revitalizing the country’s agriculture sector and fighting hunger, especially among school-age children.

“It is only fitting to put our farmers first when attending to our countrymen’s urgent need for subsistence as our farmers are considered as the nation’s first responders in fulfilling our food requirements. This bill does not aim to derail fair competition in terms of foreign trade and importation, but to support the produce of our own,” Duterte and Yap said in filing HB 3382.

Duterte and Yap recalled that at the height of the pandemic, farmers came to the rescue of poor Filipino families by dropping their prices and at times, even distributing their produce for free to those affected by the Covid-19-induced lockdowns.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has altered every country’s priority. Aside from the reinforcement to health-care institutions, what was also given the most important consideration is the provision and distribution of relief to the affected communities,” they said.

Under HB 3382, national government agencies and the local government units (LGUs) are mandated to prioritize the purchase of produce from farmers in implementing their respective relief and school feeding programs.

“Prioritizing the purchase of local produce shall mean the exhaustion of all available and applicable local produce at the most reasonable and practicable cost before resorting to imported or foreign produce,” the bill added.

To lower transportation and hauling costs, the bill states that for LGUs, local farmers’ produce within their jurisdictions takes precedence over other produce outside their respective territorial jurisdictions.

The bill, however, makes it clear that the national government and LGUs should not buy produce that are no longer fit for human consumption, are insufficient and inferior in quality, and are more costly and impracticable compared to imported or foreign sources of produce.

To ensure that the government, particularly the National Food Authority (NFA), buys farm produce at competitive prices, the two lawmakers have also made the establishment of rice drying systems mandatory under HB 3383.

The NFA buys clean and dry palay with 14 percent moisture content at P19 per kilo, which small farmers can only offer if they have access to dryers.

Because they lack these facilities, Duterte and Yap noted that many farmers are left with no choice but to sell their palay at bargain basement prices to local traders for only P12 per kilo. The cheap price makes it difficult for farmers to recover their expenses, the two lawmakers said.

Under their proposal, the NFA shall “procure, build, install, operate, manage, and/or maintain rice drying facilities sufficient in quantity and geographically accessible to local farmers to enable it to buy rice directly from local farmers.”

These drying facilities are free for farmers to use if their produce will be sold directly to the NFA.

Under the bill, the initial amount needed to procure the drying facilities shall be charged against the appropriations of the Department of Agriculture (DA), and/or sourced from Pagcor (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.), PCSO (Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office), and the Malampaya Funds.

Funds for the continued implementation of the rice-drying program shall be sourced from the DA’s annual appropriations under the national budget, HB 3383, likewise, states.