A farmers’ group said the Department of Agrarian Reform’s (DAR) mega-farm project proposal is not viable without genuine land reform and subsidies for farmers, proposing the immediate lowering of prices of farm inputs instead.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said DAR’s blueprint to try to bring down rice prices to P20 per kilo as “aspired for” by incoming President Ferdinand Marcos Jr is another form of lip service and empty promise to farmers in an obvious effort to pander to the incomingadministration.
“Truth be told, these DAR officials are only attempting to score brownie points from Bongbong Marcos Jr to retain their government posts,” KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos said.
Marcos said during the recent campaign period he wishes to see rice retail prices reduced to P20, a statement he later clarified was only an aspiration.
KMP however said the dream of a P20 per kilo of rice will not happen under the government’s existing land reform program that obligates beneficiaries to pay for land amortization.
The group instead renewed its call for the DAR to cancel land amortization, grant more subsidies to farmer and reduce production costs for rice to ultimately become more affordable.
“In fact, most ARBs in rice lands still have unpaid principal amortization and cannot pay for the 6% interest per annum imposed by the government under the bogus Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP),” Ramos revealed.
In a press conference Monday, DAR Secretary Bernie Cruz proposed to consolidate small and individual rice farms into mega-farms he dubbed as the “Programang Benteng Bigas sa Mamamayan” (PBBM, PHP20 Rice for the People Program).
PBBM is an obvious reference to an acronym Marcos supporters are already using to refer to the incoming president: President Bong Bong Marcos.
“The mega farm is a cluster of contiguous farms that are consolidated to form a sizable plantation capable of producing a large volume of farm products to meet the demands of consumers,” Cruz said.
The DAR said the PBBM may start with an initial 150,000 hectares that can produce an average of 142 cavans or sacks of rice per hectare per cropping season.
The agency said it will translate to a gain of PHP76,501 annually for agrarian reform beneficiaries, adding that if approved by the incoming Marcos government, it may lower the price of rice to PHP20 and liberate the agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARB) from subsistence farming.
The KMP however dismissed the proposal, proposing instead the following steps to bring down rice prices:
- Stop amortization payments and condone unpaid fees by ARBs;
- Give enough subsidies for rice production instead of loans; and
- Lower prices of very expensive farm inputs.
Expensive farm inputs
Former DAR secretary Rafael Mariano said the government must work to bring down rice production costs to P6 to P8 per kilo from the current P12.
“DAR’s capitalist farm-model in a small, old-fashioned and archipelagic country will not work,” he added.
The former KMP chairperson said the constantly rising fuel prices add to increasing fertilizer prices, now at a “staggering” P2,800 to P3,000 per bag.
“Expensive cost of production hurts farmers economically and pushes them deeper into debts. All farm inputs, not just fertilizer, are at a record high, or at least 12% across agricultural commodities. Industry experts forecast that fertilizer prices will remain high until petroleum prices drop,” the KMP said.
The group said the addressing the problem of expensive farm inputs is imperative and more viable than DAR’s proposal.
“President-elect Bongbong Marcos Jr should first agree and heed the broad people’s demand to suspend fuel excise taxes. Ito ang unang hakbang para kagyat na mapababa ang presyo ng langis at bilihin. Bawat OPH ay nakakaapekto sa presyo ng bigas, pagkain, bilihin at mga serbisyo,” Mariano said. (This is the first step in order to lower the prices of goods and services. Every oil price hike contributes to spikes in the prices of rice and other food items, other goods and services.)
Mariano added that DAR’s PBBM’ target of 142 cavans (7.1 metric tons) per hectare is also too good to be true and is even higher than Vietnam’s average 10-year yield per hectare average of 5.41 MT.
The Philippines’ current average yield is only 4.35 MT per hectare (87 cavans).
Mariano ppointed out that Vietnam, one of the world’s top rice-producing and exporting countries, allocates around 6% of its budget to agriculture, in contrast to the Philippines average of around 3%.
“Gusto natin ng mura at abot-kayang bigas para sa masa pero dapat gawin sa makatotohan at siyentipikong paraan at huwag daanin sa bolahan.” (We want rice that is cheaper and affordable for the people. But we want factual projections based on scientific data, instead of false promises.) # (Raymund B. Villanueva)