Department of Agrarian Reform press briefing (Screengrab from DAR Facebook)

MANILA – The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) said bringing down the price of rice to around PHP20 per kilo is achievable through its mega farms project.

In a press conference on Monday, DAR Secretary Bernie Cruz said the concept of the project is to consolidate small and individual farm lots into mega farms for rice production.

“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.

He said the aspiration of President-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. to bring down rice prices can also be made possible by reducing the cost of production without sacrificing the income of farmers.

“From the studies we conducted in the mega farms project, we found out that not only is the PHP20 a kilo achievable, but it will also be profitable for our agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs),” he said.

Under the mega farm project, Cruz said DAR has come up with “Programang Benteng Bigas sa Mamamayan” (PBBM, loosely translated as Program PHP20 for Citizen’s Rice).

DAR Undersecretary David Erro said PBBM will start with an initial 150,000 hectares of rice farm under the coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and adjacent small farm lots.

Erro said studies made by the DAR showed that 150,000 hectares can produce an average of 142 cavans or sacks of rice per hectare per cropping season.

He said it will translate to a gain of PHP76,501 annually for ARBs.

“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 nine million poor Filipinos,” Erro said.

He said if the PBBM under the mega farm project pushes through, it will not only lower the price of rice to PHP20, but will also liberate the farmer-beneficiaries of CARP from subsistence farming.

Cruz said farmers are thankful to President Rodrigo Duterte for free irrigation while the Department of Agriculture regularly distributes fertilizers and seedlings.

Cruz also stressed the importance of research and development as even farming has leveled up in terms of technology for better rice production.

He emphasized the importance of organized farming.

'Pag hindi mo po talaga tinutukan ‘yung productivity, wala kang soil testing. ‘Yung mga input na binibigay ng mga farmer, nagiging gaya gaya na lang ‘yan. Hindi na so-soil testing tapos bibili ng fertilizer so minsan baka hindi ‘yun ang kailangang fertilizer so kailangan talaga organized farming. ‘Yun yung sinasabi naming commercially viable dapat. Techie na ngayon pati ‘yung pagtatanim (If you don't focus on productivity, no soil testing, sometimes they just make up inputs. Soil testing is not done and then they buy fertilizers that may not be the right kind for the type of soil. So we need organized farming. It should be commercially viable. Even farming should be updated with technology),” Cruz said.

He said DAR has distributed lands to farmers for the past 34 years and it's about time to also focus on helping them produce more.

Sa pamamagaitan ng CARP, napakalaki na ng napamigay natin na lupa pero para maging productive, hindi natin nabibigyan ng gaanong tugon ‘yung mga lupang naipamigay natin sa mga farmers at ‘yun ay dapat na mabigyan natin ng pansin (Through CARP, we have distributed lands. However, we have not focused on helping the farmers become more productive with the land that they have received and we should now address that),” he said. (PNA)