THE chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture and Food dubbed the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) as "game changer," saying it has helped address agriculture challenges and increase rice harvest during the last three years.

In his message during the recent RCEF Program Midterm and Midyear Assessment, Quezon Rep. Wilfrido Enverga, chairman of the panel, said RCEP provided support for the farm sector, including extreme conditions, rising prices of farm input locally and globally, problems in postharvest and marketing, aging farmers and stiff market competition.

"RCEF is truly a game changer," Enverga said.

The RCEF is a component of Republic Act 11203, or the "Rice Tariffication Law." The law allocates P10-billion funds from the country's rice tariff earnings every year to help farmers improve their competitiveness.

"In addition to the DA's annual budget from the National Rice Program, we are provided with a greater chance to provide more assistance and reach more beneficiaries through RCEF," Enverga added.

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Enverga cited the report published in April 2022 stating that the RCEF was able to contribute in increasing rice production within three years of its implementation.

"Rice has always been our food staple. I cannot emphasize enough the value of rice for the Filipino people. We recognize your hard work and dedication to our beloved farmers. Rest assured that we will continue to do our best and provide support through sound policies and responsive legislative measures," Enverga added.

"It was successful in promoting lower seed requirements per hectare," Enverga noted.

On the other hand, farmer Jorge Acero of Siniloan, Laguna shared that being a farmer cooperator under RCEF has changed his ways for the better.

"There is an assurance that farmers will receive quality certified seeds for free. Modern machineries are also provided for farmers to use, credit lines with low interest rates and activities that provide additional information on how we can reduce our expenses in farming and increase our yield and income," Acero said.

He emphasized that the program has provided effective and long-lasting solutions for him and his fellow farmers.

Last 2022 dry season, Acero harvested 168 cavans with an average weight of 55.3 kilograms per cavans, or 9.29 tons per hectare, by using certified inbred seeds of NSIC Rc 402 and Rc 436 varieties. He applied the farming practices he learned from the RCEF Seed Program's PalaySikatan technology demonstration.

The DA-Philippine Rice Research Institute leads the RCEF-Seed Program. It is also the government's lead agency on rice research and development.

More support for RCEF

On the other hand, during a separate hearing of the House Committee on Agriculture and Food, Nueva Ecija Rep. Mikaela Suansing, who is also the vice chairman of the panel, cited the result of her study on the implementation of the RCEF.

"In summary, I found in my study that there are a lot of challenges in terms of attaining its targets in terms of cost savings, and yield improvements for farmers. We attribute that in the backlog mentioned in terms of the mechanization program," Suansing said.

Suansing added that she has filed House Bill 212 to strengthen the implementation of the RCEF.

"It has been referred to the committee, and I hope we will be able to deliberate on it soon. House Bill 212 seeks to increase the funding for RCEF from the current P10 billion earmarked to it to P15 billion and it seeks to provide an additional P5 billion to be earmarked for other farm inputs, such as fertilizers and other chemicals, and it also seeks to increase the budget for mechanization program under PhilMech (Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization)," Suansing said.

For his part, Enverga vowed to prioritize the proposed bill of Suansing.

"The output on the assessment [of RCEF] would be the comments from the members [of the committee]. We will accord the DA enough time for their findings of the gains and weaknesses of the program. Definitely, most likely after the deliberation of the budget, rest assured that it will be a priority," Enverga added.