DAR: P20/kilo of rice possible

When then-candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. promised in the heat of the electoral campaign to lower the price of rice to the range of P20-30/kilo many eyebrows were raised.

The price of regularly milled rice nationwide then was more than P40/kilo. The political opposition jumped on him denouncing it as a cheap propaganda trick and a desperate bravado to lure voters. Gadflies said it was against market forces and cited inflation, the rising cost of fuel, and other economic and financial factors going against fulfilling the promise. But Marcos Jr. was unfazed and didn’t retract his promise to this day. Little did anyone expect that one of the President’s flagship departments was working silently to fulfill the promise – the Department of Agrarian Reform.

In a front-page story of a major popular daily, it narrated how agrarian reform beneficiaries upon the initiative of DAR officials who are on the ground worked to bring down the price of the staple commodity within the range promised by then Presidential candidate Marcos Jr.

What it needs is only the creativity, persistence, and networking ability of local DAR which walked the farmers through possibilities and available funding sources and other opportunities by “connecting the dots”, so to speak, to make it happen. They point to them in lectures, training, and seminars the incentives, opportunities, and subsidies including windows of loan, with the cheapest interest rate offered by international agencies and government financial institutions.

The news report identified the Southern Agusan Multi-Purpose Cooperative in the Municipality of Trento as blazing the trail toward this goal. Its members are rice farmers who are mostly agrarian reform beneficiaries. It is the lead cooperative among an aggrupation of agrarian reform beneficiary organizations and a recipient of the foreign-assisted project called Convergence on Value Chain Enhancement for Rural Growth and Empowerment which targeted Mindanao Regions 9, 10 and Caraga as pilot beneficiaries with funding support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the Philippine government. How did it succeed in establishing a rice price within the reach of the marginalized people and at the same time improving the earning capacity and the quality of life of farmers?

Under the tutelage and supervision of the local DAR officials, the process starts from production with a subsidy of seeds and fertilizers to the Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Organizations which in turn sell their palay to the lead cooperative. The latter does the drying of the rice thru its “recirculating mechanical dryer” and then mills using the 2.5 metric tons per hour multi-pass rice mill. The milled rice is then sold directly to local rice retailers, wholesalers in the region, fast food chains, and institutional buyers like hospitals, jails, etc. thus, liberating them from the bondage of debt to middlemen and unscrupulous traders.

According to the news report: “Jamil Amatonding Jr., provincial program officer of the Department of Agrarian Reform said Sampco’s milling ‘complex’ comes complete with such equipment as a multi-pass miller and solar and mechanical batch dryers.” Amatonding also cited a road project to be completed this month to improve “connectivity” between the coop’s plant and other towns where it gets its palay.

As the project implementor in the Caraga region, Amatonding Jr. envisions a conversion of the farmers from tenants to landowners to entrepreneurs. He calls it empowering the farmers. He draws his renewed motivation from the fresh whiff of optimism sweeping the DAR landscape brought by the inspiring leadership of their new Secretary, Conrado Estrella III, whom they describe as an unassuming leader less in rhetoric but more in action, the grandson of a former DAR Secretary during the Marcos Sr. regime and therefore has public service ingrained in his DNA like a chromosome. Indeed, the fruit does not fall far from the tree.

This is a significant development as we face the problem of food security. The success shown by the DAR in their Caraga regional office could be the template for other regions. Pretty soon it will have a ripple effect that can finally free the President from the quagmire of his campaign promise and make his critics eat their words.



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