By Mike U. Crismundo

BUTUAN CITY – The regional office of the Department of Agriculture (DA- Caraga Region 13) distributed more than P178 million cash aid to farmers in Northeastern Mindanao or Caraga region.

DA 13 Regional Spokesperson Emmylou T. Presilda said that each qualified rice farmers received ₱5,000 cash aid.

“The cash aid is to ease the challenges of the rice farmers who are affected by the low palay prices last year,” the region’s agriculture spokesperson said.

The DA’s Rice Farmers Financial Assistance (RFFA) Program started the distribution of cash grants on January 28, this year, in partnership with the Development Bank of the Philippines.

Around 19,278 rice farmers in the region had already received the said assistance with a total of ₱96.4 million cash support.

Rice farmers who are tilling 0.5 hectares to two hectares of land and registered in the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture (RSBSA) are the beneficiaries of the program.

For the province of Agusan del Norte a total of 4,637 rice farmers received the cash assistance in the 4 municipalities and the cities of Cabadbaran and Butuan. In the province of Agusan del Sur around 5,468 received the financial aid from the 12 municipalities and Bayugan City.

On the other hand, Surigao del Sur reaches 5,018 eligible farmers from the 16 municipalities and Tandag City. For the province of Surigao del Norte 17 municipalities and Surigao City benefitted the financial support with a corresponding total of 4,155 beneficiaries.

“RFFA is the Department’s aid to the rice farmers severely affected by the sudden drop of the buying price of palay when the Rice Tarrification Law (RTL) was enacted. Its benefits and positive results will soon be experienced in the coming years as the RTL’s long-term twin goals are to provide affordable prices to consumers while raising the income of our rice farmers,” said DA-Caraga Regional Executive Director (RED) Abel James I. Monteagudo.

Despite the restrictions brought about by the pandemic, DA-Caraga together with the support of the Local Government Units (LGU) managed to distribute the needed financial assistance to the farmers and help them as they also go through difficult times due to the restrictions of movement during community quarantine.

Joseph M. Libres, 47, a rice farmer from P-5 Barangay Humilog, RTR, Agusan del Norte said he will use the amount to buy food, and if there still some he will also buy fertilizers for his one-hectare rice area. “The cash assistance is a big help for my family and for my continuous production of local rice,” Libres said.

“We are grateful for the unceasing and steadfast support of the LGUs. Since the start of this endeavor, they have been on the same page with us. Complying with the requirements needed to facilitate approval to fast track releases, our LGUs are indeed important partners in carrying out this program,” Director Monteagudo added.

Aside from the unconditional cash transfer provided by the DA, other financial aids such as Survival and Recovery (SURE) Loan Assistance payable in 10 years with zero interest and the  Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF) with low interest is also made available to farmers to help finance farming needs.

Distribution of cash aid still continues until the 38,000 target eligible rice farmers in the region receive the support.