Planters skeptical about DAR’s rice project

Farmers’ groups have expressed skepticism about the feasibility of achieving the president-elect’s campaign promise of reducing the price of rice, but Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Bernie F. Cruz insists that it can be done via the agency’s project.

Cruz has invited various farmers’ groups to join the DAR and discuss with them the agency’s project that may bring down rice prices to around P20 per kilogram.

“We invite them to join our project and discuss with them the details, so we can serve our country and the people,” he said in a statement.

It will be recalled that the DAR conducted a news briefing last June 6 where it announced its plan to submit a proposal to President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for a project called “Programang Benteng Bigas sa Mamamayan” (PBBM) under the “Mega Farm” project.

Some farmers’ groups, however, laughed off such plan and chided the DAR chief for his optimism. Others chided the Department of Agriculture (DA) for making a statement that would purportedly justify an increase in the price of rice.

Instead of making promises he can’t keep, the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) said the DAR chief should focus on installing agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) in their CARP-awarded lands. UMA cited the case of the 236 ARBs who have been deprived of their piece of land in Tinang, Concepcion in Tarlac.

UMA Chairman Antonio Flores also noted that the DAR’s main mandate is to distribute lands to farmers and agricultural workers as part of the government’s land reform program, and not to lower the price of an agricultural commodity.

‘Mind conditioning’

The Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women and rice watch group Bantay Bigas lambasted Cruz. The groups also criticized the DA for allegedly justifying an increase in the price of rice, saying the agency is “conditioning the minds of the people.”

The groups said the DA’s mandate is to achieve food self-sufficiency, but it is “acting as a mouthpiece for the interests of private and foreign traders and defender of import liberalization.”

Cathy Estavillo, Secretary-General of Amihan, and Spokesperson, Bantay Bigas meanwhile, pointed out the “contradicting pronouncements” of the DA and DAR chief on the issue of rice affordability and accessibility.

Amihan and Bantay Bigas noted that the current retail prices of commercial rice were already a burden to many poor Filipino families.

The groups also accused the DA of “misdirecting” the public’s attention towards price trends abroad instead of admitting the “detrimental impact” of the rice trade liberalization law on the livelihood of rice farmers.

“Farmers have already suffered from depressed palay farm gate prices, high cost of production from fertilizers, and other farm inputs, and continuous oil price hikes,” Estavillo said.

In a previous speech, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the rice trade liberalization law made rice cheaper and led to the creation of a P10-billion fund that seeks to make rice farmers more competitive.

Mega farms

Cruz said the mega farm project of the DAR entails the formation of contiguous farms that are consolidated to form a sizeable plantation capable of producing a large volume of farm products to meet the demands of consumers.

The concept of mega-farms is used to consolidate small farm lots into mega-farms for rice production.

“From the studies, we conducted in the mega-farms project, we found out that not only is the P20-a-kilo rice achievable, but it will also be profitable for our agrarian reform beneficiaries [ARBs],” Cruz said.

He also said the DAR, through the Mega Farm project calls for the provision of subsidies to augment the cost of the production inputs of the farmers.

Cruz said the project needs the full support of the national government. “It is integrated with values of land tenure security, adoption of modern and mechanized farming practices and farmer entrepreneurship, and holistic support services by the government with the participation of the local and foreign investors.”

“Other farmers’ concerns can be inputted into the DAR’s proposal before this will be presented to the President-elect.”

Under the Mega Farm project, DAR is proposing the inclusion of an initial 150,000 hectares of rice land under the coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and its adjacent small farm lots in the project.

According to studies made by the DAR, the project can produce an average of 142 cavans of rice per hectare per cropping season. This translates to a gain of P76,501 annually for ARBs.

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