2M farmers, fishers to get rice subsidy

Published by rudy Date posted on May 7, 2011

MANILA, Philippines—About two million farmers, fisherfolk and the poorest of the poor are in line for a rice subsidy or short-term employment from the government to tide them over the lean months and help them cope with rising food prices, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said Friday.

Speaking at a press briefing, Soliman said the government would start distributing the rice subsidy to poor families on May 15. She said this was part of the government’s efforts to ensure decent meals for these families despite the surge in the costs of basic commodities.

Farmers and fisherfolk will also be enlisted to work in government infrastructure projects to provide them income before the second cropping starts in the fourth quarter of the year, she said.

Soliman said the subsidy program was expected to cost the Aquino administration P4.2 billion and to benefit two million people.

NFA rice

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has taken over the duties of the National Food Authority (NFA) in providing cheap rice to the poor in rural and urban areas.

Soliman said the DSWD had the means and infrastructure to ensure that the Philippines’ main staple would reach the poorest families.

She said that in the past administration, the distribution of cheap rice was inefficient—meaning there were “leakages” in the distribution and poor families were “untargeted.”

“The NFA rice was given to the Pamilihang Bayan. It was available in the market and anyone who had money could buy it,” she said.

NFA rice is priced at P27 a kilo; commercial rice costs between P30 and P45 a kilo depending on the quality.

Soliman said that under the new subsidy scheme, beneficiaries could choose to avail themselves of NFA rice or to be employed temporarily in government projects for 14 days a month.

The beneficiaries of the temporary employment program will work on agricultural projects such as farm-to-market roads and irrigation facilities, Soliman said. They will be paid according to the minimum wage in the region.

The program will last from July to November, when farmers are expected to return to tilling farmlands.

Those who will avail themselves of NFA rice will receive an amount equivalent to 14 days’ minimum wage, Soliman said.

To ensure that only qualified families can access NFA rice, the beneficiaries will be chosen from the DSWD database of low-income families for its poverty alleviation programs, she said.

These families will be given vouchers by the local government, which they can use to withdraw rice. The DSWD is finalizing the numbers of families qualified for the vouchers.

More financial aid

The rice subsidy and temporary work scheme are not the first forms of financial assistance that the Aquino administration issued this year in response to the price increases of fuel and basic commodities.

Recently, the administration allocated short-term subsidies of as much as P1,200 to operators of public utility vehicles to cushion the effects of rising oil prices.

In a report issued on Friday, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said the prices of local goods and services rose faster last month.

Inflation rose to a 12-month high last month to 4.5 percent due to surges in commodity prices, the BSP said.

The prices of local commodities tracked global food prices, which have been rising since last year.

Food Price Index up

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Food Price Index averaged 232 points in April, slightly up from 231 points in March and only 2 percent below its peak in February.

The index was stable despite jumps in grains prices, the FAO said. It said the rise of the grains sector was tempered by slight declines in other food sectors such as meat, oil, sugar and dairy.

The FAO also said the movement of food prices in the next few months would depend on the volatile dollar, oil prices and grains production.

“A sliding dollar and increased oil prices are contributing to high food commodity prices, particularly grains,” said David Hallam Director of FAO’s Trade and Market Division.

“With demand continuing strong, prospects for a return to more normal prices hinge largely on how much production will increase in 2011 and how much grain reserves are replenished in the new season,” he said. –Kristine L. Alave, Philippine Daily Inquirer

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