As agricultural damages continue to mount due to the recent onslaught of typhoon Labuyo, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto pushed for the passage of a bill establishing a special insurance program for rice and corn farmers heavily hit by calamities.

“This piece of legislation aims to aid our rice and corn farmers in times of severe calamity. Right now, agricultural damage brought by typhoon Labuyo is estimated at over P430 million. Those affected have no recourse but to bear the brunt of extreme weather conditions,” Recto explained.

Entitled “Special Rice and Corn Insurance Program of 2013,” Senate Bill 714 establishes a special insurance program that will enable rice and corn farmers cultivating land with a maximum area of five (5) hectares to replant as soon as weather and soil condition permits, thereby ensuring the least disruption in crop production, ensuring food security and farm incomes.

“The premium shall be fully-paid for by the State through the Special Rice and Corn Insurance Program to be undertaken by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Agrarian Reform through the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation,” Recto said.

Earlier, Agriculture Assistant Secretary Edilberto de Luna said that the hardest hit when typhoon Labuyo ravaged the most part of Luzon were corn farmers from Region 2, reporting losses amounting to P315.61 million, while corn farmers in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) suffered damages reaching P5.29 million.

In the Quirino province, farmlands planted with corn reported damages estimated at P175.18 million.

For ricelands, it has been reported that Region 2 suffered the biggest damage at P52.78 million, followed by Central Luzon at P39.43 million. In the province of Isabela alone, losses were reported P26.34 million in ricelands, while those in Quirino suffered P23.54 million in damages. The same goes for rice farmers in Nueva Ecija and Zambales.

“This bill seeks to provide a special insurance program to cover losses incurred exclusively by rice and corn farmers,” Recto said.

In filing the measure, the lawmaker from Batangas noted that bulk of the Filipino diet and food expenditures consist of the staple grains, rice and corn.

“Generally, the Filipino family spends 20-30% of their food expenditures budget on rice. On the other hand, around 14 million Filipinos prefer to eat white corn grits as their main staple,” he said.

Recto also noted that the livestock and poultry sectors and food processors also depend on sufficient and stable supply of reasonably-priced rice and corn for food and non-food uses such as in feeds production.

“The two main staples are very important economic commodities as the production involves millions of farm households tilling land as small holders and millions more as laborers and merchants,” he added.

“Two million households grow rice and 600,000 households grow corn. Likewise, production needs land, water, seeds, inputs like fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and the like, farm machineries and post-harvest facilities like grain silos, that are mostly expensive.”

However, the peculiar climate of the Philippines increases the vulnerabilities in agriculture that consequently expand the mandates of government agencies, he explained.

He mentioned that rice and corn production are the main contributors of the P192.4 Billion crops subsector out of P352 Billion agriculture production just for the First Quarter of 2013.

“This echoes subsector growth in the past. Some of the measures in mainstreaming climate change are the use of geo-hazard maps, engineering solutions and use of appropriate rice and corn varieties, among others,” he said.

Aside from extreme weather conditions, diseases and pest infestations similarly lead to crop losses. The dreaded black bugs damage thousands of hectares of rice farms and are precursors of El Niño episodes. Rats, army worms and locusts are some of the pests considered as scourges by farmers nationwide.

“In order to recover from these damages and to plant anew, farmers need assistance through access to agriculture extension services and immediate capital infusion to acquire needed inputs,” Recto stated.

The bill also recognizes the growth and equity in the subsector, which are paramount in achieving food security and elimination of extreme poverty especially in rural areas.

“Despite great demand for rice and corn, the farmers and farm workers remain one of the poorest sectors and suffer hunger, come good or bad weather,” he said.

The measure also attempts to address the seeming helplessness rice and corn farmers feel when calamities such as the recent typhoon damage hundreds of millions of pesos of croplands.

“The cycle of crop loss and hunger is reinforced as farmers who suffered such crop losses exhibited the following coping mechanisms: passive acceptance and belief in the futility of attempts to prevent crop loss; replanting the damaged crops; and, planting alternative crops,” Recto explained.

“Mostly, they wait for the next planting season and sustain family expenditures by working in other jobs like driving. Consequently, farmers with depressed incomes fail to provide for their minimum basic needs much less for inputs in the next cropping cycle.”

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