Metro Manila, Philippines — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has approved the release of a ₱5,000 subsidy to small-scale rice farmers – from a fund totaling ₱12.7 billion – to help them amid El Niño and other agricultural challenges, Malacañang said on Saturday.

The Presidential Communications Office (PCO) said Marcos gave his go signal on Thursday, a move that would aid around 2.3 million beneficiaries of the Rice Farmers Financial Assistance (RFFA) program.

“[This would] help them cope with the increasing cost of production and sustain their productivity even in the face of challenges like the coming El Niño [phenomenon],” said Marcos, who is also Agriculture secretary.

RFFA beneficiaries are farmers tilling below two hectares of land.

The PCO said they include members of farm cooperatives associations, irrigators associations, agrarian reform beneficiaries organizations, small water impounding systems associations, and other farm groups.

It noted that the entire budget for the financial aid was sourced through the excess tariff collection from rice importations in 2022.

Meanwhile, Marcos also approved the use of another ₱700 million in excess tariff collections for the “Palayamanan Plus” conditional cash transfer under the Household Crop Diversification Program.

For this, 78,000 beneficiaries are expected to receive ₱10,000 each.

Malacañang said these are farmers registered in the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture and who are also listed in the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

The Department of Agriculture earlier warned that the country may experience the impact of El Niño on rice supply beginning the second quarter of 2024. Forty-five provinces could be hit by drought, based on estimates from the state weather bureau.

Other problems hounding the rice industry include the hoarding and illegal importation of the commodity, which Marcos has blamed for the spike in prices.

The president said such criminal activities has forced him to issue the executive order putting a price ceiling on rice. Farmers earlier complained of losses from the price cap, as millers and traders buy the grain from them at a discount.