When then presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. promised to bring down the price of rice at P20 per kilo, a lot of agriculture experts frowned at it, arguing that it is impossible and even if it happens, it will eventually kill local farmers.
And now that Marcos was elected, a lot of Filipinos are holding on to this campaign promise. But is it really possible?
It is, according to Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Bernie F. Cruz.
In a press briefing on Monday, June 6, Cruz said the P20/kilo rice goal requires proper and strategic planning and implementation, and full support from the national government.
Citing the study they conducted in the past, Cruz discussed the viability of bringing down the price of the rice, which is the main staple food of the Filipinos, through what he calls the Mega Farm project.
“From the studies we conducted from the mega farms project, we found out that not only the P20-a-kilo-rice achievable, it is also profitable for our agrarian reform beneficiaries,” said Cruz.
How it would work
According to Cruz, who is the proponent of the project, the plan is to consolidate small farms into mega farms purposely for mass production of rice.
“Like the block farming, the mega farm is a cluster of contiguous farms that is consolidated to form a sizable plantation capable of producing a large volume of farm products to meet the demands of the buyers,” Cruz explained.
Ideally, Cruz said the mega farm should be comprised of production core with at least 50 hectares of agrarian reform lands in contiguous areas or proximate with one another.
“It is integrated with values of lands tenure security, adoption of modern and mechanized farming practices and farmer entrepreneurship, and holistic support service by the government with local and foreign investors’ participation,’ said Cruz.
Once the mega farm for rice is started, Cruz said this will also signal the intervention of the national government through a dependable support system that include funding for the irrigation, farm-to-market roads, potable water supply, warehouses and storage facilities, greenhouses, input and product distribution sources.
Some of the targeted areas for mega farms, according to Cruz, have already existing irrigation systems while some are good locations for irrigation works.
According to Cruz, there are several models that can be adopted to ensure success of the mega farm such as local or foreign investor-led production core, Joint Venture Agreement, Lease Agreement, Management Contract, Marketing Agreement, and Production/Contract Growing/Growership.
Strength in Unity
Over the years, DAR has been confronted with issues regarding agrarian reform beneficiaries as some of them were forced to give up rice farming and even sell the lands they got from the government due to high production costs.
Under the mega farm project, Cruz said the concept is to consolidate all the agrarian reform beneficiaries into solid producers of rice with target production and readily-available market for the product.
“This can be done through the establishment of the Mega Farms in Agrarian Reform Communities and or Agrarian Reform Clusters. It will catalyze the transformation of about 1.3 million hectares of agriculture lands covered formerly under the Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CCLOA) to the distributed agrarian reform beneficiaries into consolidated and highly productive cluster farms while maintaining individual land ownership of the agrarian reform beneficiaries,” said Cruz.
“These agrarian reform beneficiaries with computerized titles will consolidate their land, form organization/cooperative and establish Mega Farms,” he added.
Based on the goal of the project, it will initially seek to cover 79 agrarian reform communities, involving 3,950 agrarian reform beneficiaries who are tilling approximately 4,000 hectares of land in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
And once government intervention is assured, farmers need not to be confronted with serious rice production problems as seedlings, fertilizers and pesticides will be supported by the national government.
Local farmer empowerment
Cruz said the program also aims to enhance food self-sufficiency, link up with institutional and commercial buyers of raw farm products and ease poverty in the countryside.
Cruz sees a bright future on the project especially that DAR has already stepped up the distribution of lands in the past six years.
Based on its data, DAR has distributed 168,238 hectares of farm land to agrarian reform beneficiaries from July 2016 until June 2020.
As of January, the agency still has a balance of some 523,092 hectares of land for acquisition and distribution.
Under the mega farm project, Cruz said it will be beneficial for individual farmers who now own land to enter into commercial and agri-venture arrangements so that they can enter into supply contracts.
The project, according to Cruz, would help local farmers shift away from subsistence farming – or merely planting and harvesting so they have something to eat – towards trade and product exports.
He added that mega farm will also spur the creation of job opportunities in the process.
“The establishment of mega farms complete with facilities and industries in the areas may pave the way for growth of new urban centers that would radiate to the rural areas,” said Cruz.
The Thailand Experience
In a report of the Bangkok Post in 2016, it cited successful implementation of mega farm projects using large parcels of land.
The project became successful, according to the report, as the production cost declined.
Thailand has one of the best experiences in rice farming due to implementation of innovations that are supported by the national government and other stakeholders.
In the implementation of a mega farm project for instance, it was reported that local farmers were consolidated and the government intervention came in the form of the deployment of modern equipment that includes harvesting machinery.
DAR is now pushing for the implementation of the “Programang Beinteng Bigas para sa Mamamayan” (PBBM) that would be anchored on the Mega Farm project.
According to studies made by DAR, a 150,000-hectare of land can produce an average of 142 cavans of rice per hectare per cropping season. This translates to a gain of P76,501.00 annually for agrarian reform beneficiaries.
“We Filipinos have a daily average per capita consumption of rice at 301 grams or 109.9 kilograms per year. With that figure, this project can feed around 900,000 poor Filipinos in our country,” said Undersecretary David Erro.
“If our mega farms project pushes through, it will not only lower the price of rice to P20, but it will also liberate the farmer-beneficiaries of CARP from subsistence farming,” he added.
Cruz, for his part, said the Mega Farm is DAR’s strategic move to help the country recover from the adverse economic impacts brought by the Covid-19 pandemic and facilitate the revitalization of the agriculture sector to achieve food sufficiency and security.
“Moreover, the concept is in line with the thrust of president-elect Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos in transforming agriculture into a more economically productive and resilient sector of the country,” said Cruz.