10 million kilos of Isabela rice saved and bought at fair price during pandemic: Pangilinan

AS Isabela rice farmers struggle with the twin effects of the Rice Tariffication Law and the Covid-19 pandemic, an Isabela-based cooperative avoided bankruptcy and even posted higher earnings due to the direct buying of rice by local government units (LGUs).

In an online consultation with farmers in Isabela Thursday, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan recognized the efforts of Nagkakaisang Magsasaka ng Isabela Agricultural Cooperative (NMI) who would have lost 10 million kilos of rice harvest if not for the direct purchase allowed by the Sagip Saka Law.

NMI manager Ana Cristina Go said that before and during the pandemic, the buying price of palay in Isabela went as low as 10 pesos to 14 pesos per kilo. Using the Rice Competitive Enhancement Fund, NMI as mandated by Isabela Governor Rodolfo Albano III, increased their buying price of palay by 5 pesos per kilo for their 8,500 members.

The challenge, however, was how to sell the 10 million kilos of palay they were able to buy from farmers.

NMI manager Ana Cristina Go
NMI manager Ana Cristina Go

“Isa po ang Sagip Saka na napakalaking tulong po na naibigay sa amin. Bakit? Dahil po since emergency, bago lang po ang aming coop, kailangan namin ng tulong sa paper work at bidding. Binigyan namin [ng bigas] lahat ng LGU ng Isabela, sa Cavite, sa Batangas, at sa Makati, Quezon City, Taguig — bumili po sila lahat sa amin sa pamamagitan ng Sagip Saka. We didn’t have to go through the process of bidding,” Go said.

“Hindi po kami nalugi. Sa totoo lang, kumita pa po ang coop. Because of Sagip Saka, we were able to sell out our products. Hanggang ngayon po, ginagamit pa rin namin,” she added.

Go said that when palay prices were at their lowest, the NMI cooperative bought palay from farmers at 19 pesos per kilo.

“Ang naging problema po namin, hindi namin mabenta nang bagsak. Nung nagkaroon po ng Covid, andami pong mga LGUs ay sila po ang tumulong na,” she explained.

Pangilinan pointed out that the Sagip Saka law allows direct purchase not only by LGUs. He said national agencies like the Departments of Social Welfare and Development and Education (DSWD and DepEd) can now also buy directly from farmers and fisher-folk groups and cooperatives.

“Ngayon, ang DSWD pwede nang dumiretso sa mga kooperatiba dahil nga meron nang special provision sa GAA for 2021 that they can purchase directly and negotiate with cooperatives,” Pangilinan said.

“Direct buying ng government agencies ang susi. Kailangang paigtingin,” he said.

Pangilinan commits to helping cooperatives in Isabela and all over the country be connected with national government agencies to facilitate direct buying of agricultural products.

“Agriculture power house ang Isabela. Its success has effects nationwide,” Pangilinan said.

Isabela is the number one rice and corn producing province in Region 2, contributing 60 percent and 51 percent of the total supply respectively despite limited budget.

As of 2021, Region 2 has an allocation of over 2 billion pesos under the National Rice Program, and 145 million pesos for the National Corn Program.