Price isn't rice: DAR’s cheaper rice vision still isn’t 20/20

·4 min read
A worker carries on his head a sack of rice inside a government rice warehouse National Food Authority in Quezon city, Metro Manila in Philippines, August 9, 2018. Picture taken August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Erik De Castro
A worker carries on his head a sack of rice inside a government rice warehouse National Food Authority in Quezon city, Metro Manila in Philippines, August 9, 2018. Picture taken August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) still thinks Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr.'s plan for P20/kilo of rice is possible, but farmers already said it isn’t.

"May nalalaman pa mechanized farming ang DAR samantalang nadagdagan ng P7,000 [to] 8,000 ang gastos ng mga magsasaka sa land [preparation] at irrigation dahil sa oil price hike. Kung anu-ano ang pinagsasabi nila, mga mismong mga magsasaka ng palay ngayon, hirap na hirap sa tumataas na gastos ng abono at inputs, tapos sasabihin nilang kakayanin iyang P20 kada kilong bigas?,” Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women Secretary-General Cathy Estavillo slammed last June 7.

(While DAR is looking into mechanized farming, farmers struggle with an increase of P7,000 [to] P8,000 in expenses related to land [preparation] and irrigation because of the oil price hikes. They’re spouting nonsense. Rice farmers these days are burdened by rising fertilizer costs and inputs. Now they’ll say we can push for P20 a kilo of rice?)

This was after Agrarian Reform Secretary Bernie Cruz said the day before that the department had drafted the “Programang Benteng Bigas sa Mamamayan (PBBM).” Here, smaller farms would be clustered into mega farms that at least had 50 hectares of land, with infrastructure projects supporting them. Managing said farms can either involve local or foreign investors, contracting workers, or leasing lands among other models.

“From the studies we conducted in the mega-farms project, we found out that not only is the P20-a-kilo-rice achievable, it is also profitable for our agrarian reform beneficiaries,” the department chief said in a press conference, looking developments to take shape at the first quarter of 2023.

David Erro, DAR’s undersecretary, believed that by mechanizing about 150,000 rice land hectares, more than 23 million rice cavans would be produced “to be able to feed around nine million” individuals.

Farmers' struggles

Following this, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) Chairperson Danilo Ramos also criticized DAR for turning a blind eye to the farmers’ struggles. So long as agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) are forced to excessively pay their loans with interest, he said, DAR’s “aspiration” will never come to be.

Ang dapat gawin ng DAR at ng Department of Agriculture [DA] ay:1) huwag nang pagbayarin ang mga magsasaka at i-condone na ang mga di-nababayarang amortisasyon sa lupa ng mga ARBs, 2) magbuhos ng sapat na subsidyo sa produksyon at hindi pautang, at 3) pababain nang husto ang presyo ng farm inputs na napakamahal sa ngayon,” said Ramos who continue to till his parcel of rice farm in Bulacan,” Ramos lamented, saying that DAR was merely seeking “brownie points” from Marcos.

(What DAR and the Department of Agriculture [DA] needs to do are 1.) to no longer require farmers to pay and condone unpaid amortizations of ARBs’ lands, 2.) to pour sufficient subsidies into production and not offer loans, and 3.) to lower the price for farm inputs that are still expensive to this day.)

KMP previously blasted this back when Marcos first introduced the idea around late-April, comparing the “fat lie” to the failed Kadiwa program. The latter referred to an initiative, led by agencies under Imelda Marcos’ control, that attempted to sell commodities at cheaper prices. That was until it was closed around 1985 after reports of hoarding and frequent raids in shops. A side-effect being rice prices skyrocketing.

Plan not feasible

Ex-DAR secretary Rafael Mariano also condemned his former department, adding that the plan wouldn’t be feasible when farmers deal with rising production costs.

Kung maibababa nang husto sa P6 hanggang P8 kada kilo ang production cost kada kilo ng palay, posibleng bumaba ang presyo ng bigas. Nasa lampas P12 kada kilo ang production cost ng palay at tumataas pa dahil sa combo ng napakamahal na presyo ng abono at petrolyo, imposible ang sinasabi ng DAR na sa maagang bahagi ng 2023 ay magkakaresulta na ang PBBM," Mariano said.

(If production costs can be lowered to around P6 to P8, then yes, rice prices can go down. But right now, production costs are more than P12 per kilo and are still climbing due to a combo of expensive fertilizer and petroleum costs. DAR saying that PBBM would work by 2023 is impossible.)

Cruz hoped that after talking things over with Marcos, guidelines will be drafted within the next six months.

However, Estavillo, also the spokesperson for Bantay Bigas, reminded the department that their mandate was to protect farmers’ “security of tenure.” In Estavillo’s eyes, DAR failed.

“If the [department] seriously [did their tasks], such as providing land[s] to the farmers, [resolving] land grabbing, land use conversion, and cancellation of CLOAs [Certificates of Land Ownership Award], [then] there's no need for megafarms. The realization for rural development, genuine land reform, and national food security will follow,” Estavillo concluded.

Reuben Pio Martinez is a news writer who covers stories on various communities and scientific matters. He regularly tunes in to local happenings. The views expressed are his own.

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