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P20/kilo rice? P27.50 'nearest we can do by now,' says Agri chief

Agriculture Secretary William Dar on Tuesday said while he is supporting President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.'s goal to reduce the prices of rice to P20 per kilo, P27.5 per kilo is "the nearest we can do by now."

"The nearest we can do by now — I can be given other figures if you have better way of doing it — P27.50 is the nearest," Dar said during a press conference.

According to Dar, the Department of Agriculture (DA) has started "conceptualizing" how to reach or come near the P20/kg target and has arrived at some suggestions.

On of these, he said, is adopting the Masagana 99, a program of Marcos' father, late president Ferdinand Marcos Sr. Under the program, the government will aim to raise the country's average rice crop yield to 99 kaban per hectare, with farmers utilizing  newly developed technologies.

Currently, the national average for both inbred and hybrid rice is at 4.5 metric tons per hectare, which is less than 100 kaban, according to Dar.

"So that must be the aspiration there before. Now let's go beyond that aspiration. So for inbred rice meron kaming konseptong [we have a concept of] Masagana 150,” he said, pointing out that this is equivalent to 7.5 metric tons per hectare.

For hybrid rice, Dar said they are planning to have Masagana 200.

P20/kilo rice not advisable

In a television interview, former DA secretary Manny Piñol said reducing the price of rice to P20 is not advisable, as this would affect the livelihood of Filipino farmers.

"Kung gusto ng Presidente, puwedeng gawin [If the President wants to do it, he can do it], but it's not advisable, it's not economically viable. It will cause government finance of losses, big time," he said in an interview on CNN Philippines

"The rule of thumb is the price of rice, divided by two is the price of palay. So kung P20 'yung bigas mo, P10 lang 'yung palay noong farmer eh malulugi 'yung farmer, hindi papayag 'yun," he added.

(If the price of rice is P20, then the price of palay is P10. The farmers will lose profit because of that. They will not allow that.)

Agri sector in crisis

Also on Tuesday, incoming Socioeconomic Planning secretary and National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) chief Arsenio Balisacan said the Philippines' agriculture sector is already in crisis, citing the soaring prices not only of rice but also of meat.

"Rice prices have also been a problem that while the tariffication has brought down the cap of prices quite a bit, they are still high and the issues that concern farmers, the low profitability of rice farming in agriculture and farming in general, have to be faced. So with that I would say that our agriculture is in crisis," he said in a television interview.

Balisacan's remark came after Marcos announced that he would sit as DA secretary "for now," saying that he is giving high priority to the issues besetting the agriculture sector.

Sugar production

Meanwhile, Dar said the production of sugar should be boosted as its price already rose to P90 per kilo in some markets in the country.

“Maraming dapat gawin (A lot of things should be done). You need to continue to boost productivity of sugar. I mean the sugar cane that we have. Ang sugar cane industry has to elevate their game,” he said.

Dar defended the decision of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) to import 200,000 metric tons (MT) of refined sugar for industrial users.

“Yan yung unang objective kasi noong panahong iyan, yan ang nangangailangan. Even now, the industries need sugar. Kung walang sugar, apektado ang industry,” he said.

(That was the objective at that time, the industries need sugar supply. Even now, the industries need sugar. If there is no sugar, they will be affected.)

According to Dar, they are balancing their actions to accommodate the consuming public and the industries.

Asked if he will suggest to Marcos importing more sugar supply, Dar said he will check related data first before making recommendations. —with Anna Felicia Bajo/KBK/RSJ, GMA News