JPE: loan relief for El Niño-stricken farmers, SMEs

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said yesterday that loan rescheduling and additional financing should be extended to farmers, fisherfolk and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to help them survive the impact of the El Niño phenomenon.

Enrile, a senatorial candidate under the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), said he will forumalize this proposal in a bill he will introduce when the next Congress convenes to help boost the agriculture sector.

“Kung ganitong nagkaka-problema sa kanilang ani ay dapat bigyan ng palugit ang kanilang pagbabayad,” Enrile told a radio interview in San Jose, Mindoro Occidental. “Kung darating ang session namin sa Hulyo, I will be the one to sponsor a bill to grant relief para sa kanila.”

The Rural Bankers Association of the Philippines has already expressed support for calls to assist the embattled sector to ensure that there is ample supply of food in the country as well as to keep the rural economy running. To date, the group said, it has provided some P35.5 billion in loans to SMEs, farmers and fisherfolk.

To cushion the impact of El Niño, the Department of Agriculture has put in place a P1.7-billion mitigation plan to ease the expected losses from the dry spells.

The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), however, reported last week that damage to crop in 12 regions hit by the prolonged long dry spell has already reached P8.5 billion, or roughly an equivalent of 576,607 metric tons of agricultural products.

At least 301,000 families have been affected by the drought, and about 117,844 of them are from Region 12 alone, the hardest hit by the El Niño, according to NDCC.

The agriculture department estimates that more than 453,000 hectares of land planted to palay and 228,000 hectares more of corn areas plus 14,180 hectares devoted to fishery will be affected by the long dry spell. Production losses under a severe condition could bring the cost to P20.5 billion, it added.

Enrile has previously sought for additional budget to help farmers and fisherfolk, as well as a review of the policies for the agriculture sector to draw up a long-term plan to ensure that crop and fishery production in the country is sufficient.

“Patuloy nating pag-aaralan ang mga policies ng agrikultura sapagkat kailangan natin ‘yan. Basic ‘yan sa ating buhay – ang pagkain – at maraming tao ang naghahanap-buhay sa sector na ito lalo na para sa mga taga-rural area,” the Senate chief has said.#