Four agri-firms avail of DA’s zero-interest loans; poor farmers didn’t know

Amie Gabriel Lanayan, provincial agriculture officer, told Sangguniang Panlalawigan (provincial board) session on December 5 that only four firms from Bukidnon were able to access the loan intended for poor farmers.

"These are all big companies. I thought this is supposed to benefit poor farmers?" board member Roland Deticio said after Lanayan reported a total of at least P72.2 million loans had been released in the province: P31.9 million to the Asian Hybrid Technologies; P16.4 million to RJR Enterprises [Bangcud]); P14 million to the state-owned Central Mindanao University and P9.9 million to the J and J Swine Products.

The ACEF loan facility, set up to help the agricultural sector “become globally competitive, viable, efficient and sustainable,” ends by yearend but Lanayan said it may be extended.

Lanayan was summoned by the provincial board to shed light on the issue amid queries ACEF had not benefited farmers in the province and there was little information about it.

Board member Camilo Pepito, who sought Lanayan's presence during the SP session on November 21, said he was alarmed about ACEF's loan coverage in the province.

In that session, a representative from the DA’s regional office briefed provincial legislators that farmers cooperatives, associations, individuals, corporations and even local government units could avail of the ACEF loan for a minimum of P500,000 to P30 million.

The ACEF scheme requires only an equity of at least 20 to 40 percent from the zero-interest loan, payable in at least six years.

Lanayan told the provincial board 10 groups submitted proposals for the loan but funds had been released to only four.

He said they conducted enough information dissemination to the municipal agriculture officers and technicians around the province in an agriculture forum in 2002 and made subsequent follow up reminders to municipal agriculture officers on the farmers' access to the ACEF loans.

"I don't believe we failed to disseminate information on this loan," he told the legislators in the earlier part of his presentation. In the latter part, however, he admitted, "I accept we have lapses. That along the lines of information, it bogged down. But I did my best.”

Board member Alfeo Baguio (3rd district) lamented that not one farmer in his district had availed of the loan.

Board member Glenn Peduche (2nd district) asked about the status of the loan application of  25 members of the Pulangui River Irrigators Association for a post harvest facility.

Lanayan said he would inquire from the officials who could provide the answers.

Estelita Madjos, one of Lanayan's deputies, told MindaNews the bigger problem is that the DA has required highly technical feasibility studies that small farmers could not afford to commission. She said these studies require experts to prepare in at least six months. The provincial agriculture office (PAO) is not capable of providing this expertise, she said.

Board member Anacleto Macias (3rd district), provincial board agriculture committee chair told Lanayan to prioritize the irrigators, cooperatives and LGUs in the loan facility.
He said the PAO should find means to help farmers prepare the technical requirements, if ACEF is extended.

Macias said they are preparing a resolution to request the national government to extend ACEF.

Enacted in 1996, the ACEF was a special purpose fund created by Republic Act No. 8178, from the proceeds of the in-quota minimum access value (MAV) importations.

Starting in 2002, ACEF was made available to the agriculture sector to finance irrigation, farm-to-market roads, post-harvest equipment and facilities, research and development, marketing infrastructure, provision of market information, re-training, extension services, and other forms of assistance to farmers and fisher folk.

"As of 2006, ACEF still had a balance of P5.81 billion, and funded 173 projects worth P2.76 billion that year. An additional 55 projects worth P1.14 billion was approved by the ACEF committee this year, leaving a balance of Php1.9 billion," Senator Edgardo Angara, a former agriculture secretary, said in October this year when he proposed the extension.

Angara chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food.

"The remaining Php1.9 billion could still fund sorely needed farming infrastructure and equipment, research and development, and the expansion of livestock, poultry, fruits and vegetable enterprises." he added.

"This can cushion the farming sector from the impact of liberalized trade in the agriculture sector," Angara said. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)