NTA administrator Edgardo D. Zaragoza said the program will boost the drive to become self-sufficient in rice 2013. Zaragoza recently distributed checks to 1,484 farmer co-operators in La Union, Pangasinan, Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, Abra and Mindoro who are scheduled to plant rice in over 1,242 hectares of land previously planted to tobacco.
“Under the program, a farmer tilling one hectare of land will receive P18,000 in assistance from the NTA, which the agency will increase to P30,000 to P40,000 per hectare during the tobacco season,” said Zaragoza.
The tobacco crop year runs from October to June.
The amount of loans extended by NTA to farmers in the eight tobacco-producing provinces used to be a measly P3.5 million a year, but this was increased to P34 million for 2011.
But the budget was scarcely enough to finance farmers’ needs, according to Zaragoza.
“We understand that in order to be more productive, viable, and relevant, tobacco farmers have to participate in all facets of production, training, and marketing,” he said.
Dr. Roberto Bonoan, NTA deputy administrator for operations, said that in terms of farmer beneficiaries, this year’s figure is 79 percent higher than last year’s 828 farmers, and 80.73 percent higher in land area compared with last year’s 687 hectares.
He also added that the inbred rice component of the agency’s Integrated Farming and Other Income-Generating Activities Project produces an average yield of 5.2 metric tons of palay per hectare, with an expected volume of around 6,458 metric tons this year.
As this developed, the municipality of Laoac in Pangasinan became the first local government unit to enter into a financial counterparting agreement with NTA to support tobacco farmers.
Mayor Silverio Alarcio Jr. signed a memorandum of agreement where the fourth class municipality allocated a P240,000 fund to support 40 farmers planting rice this wet season.
According to NTA, its will double the money with its counterpart fund.
Alarcio said NTA is sincere in addressing the plight of tobacco farmers.
“This is why I agreed to enter into this agreement with them. I want to increase our participation to P1 million by next year,” he said.
Zaragoza said wholesale tobacco dealers like PMFTC, Universal Leaf Philippines, Continental Leaf, Trans Manila Inc., and Associated Anglo-American Inc. have committed to support farmers by granting them loans during the dry season.
He said tobacco farmers are getting special attention because they have a better reputation in repaying loans at 90 to 95 percent, compared with the national average in loan collections for agriculture-related crops of only 13 percent.