AN AGRICULTURE official admitted that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has not yet fulfilled the campaign promise of providing rice at P20 per kilo.

But Gerry Avila, chief of operations of the Department of Agriculture Central Visayas (DA 7), assured the public that they are making every effort to fulfill this commitment, particularly in addressing the looming effects of the El Niño phenomenon.

"The way I see it, to explain about rice, when our beloved President really try to explain those things, he said it is really his dream and aspirations to really, at one time or one day, during his administration that his P20 dream will be realized," Avila said.

He said this can be achieved through streaming line lowering or production cost, and adapt new technology and methodology in farming in the local areas.

The P20 per kilo of rice promise was a cornerstone of Marcos' election campaign, one that garnered significant support from rice-dependent communities across the country.

The delay in delivering on this promise has drawn criticism from various quarters, but the agriculture agency committed to its realization. Marcos concurrently holds the agriculture secretary position.

Former President Rodrigo Duterte is among those who questioned the feasibility of this election promise. He criticized Marcos's P20 per kilo rice price, arguing that it is unrealistic considering the principles of supply and demand in the global market.

"By our standard, P20 is masyadong mababa yan (too low), and rice-producing countries have also limited the volume of rice they could export as they also do not have enough land to plant rice on. It is development, from forestry to agriculture, then to commercial," Duterte said on September 16, 2023.

Increase production

Avila said they are actively assisting local farmers in doubling their yield through the Masagana Rice Industry Development Program (MRIDP). This is also in anticipation of the ill effects of El Niño.

MRIDP is aimed at achieving higher national rice sufficiency levels by boosting productivity, specifically the average yield per hectare. This is to be achieved through widespread adoption of modern and mechanical technologies by organized groups of farmers.

He said their efforts involve identifying farmlands equipped with irrigation systems to prioritize production enhancement, while reaffirming their commitment to addressing the needs of non-irrigated farmlands.

Avila noted their close coordination with the National Irrigation Administration to identify the irrigator associations within the region as they prepare for the upcoming planting season from October through March.

Referring to information provided by the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, Avila pointed out that moderate drought effects are expected to be felt in November and December of this year.

El Niño preparation

During a news forum on Tuesday, September 12, 2023, Avila announced their efforts to assist local farmers in preparing for the impending El Niño phenomenon, which is expected to pose challenges to rice production.

Avila said they are working toward preparing approximately 15,000 hectares of farmlands to distribute hybrid palay seeds to local farmers.

These hybrid seeds, created from the cross-pollination of two superior plants, exhibit improved performance, particularly in nutrient absorption and resistance to pests and diseases.

He noted that the utilization of hybrid seeds has consistently yielded a significantly better harvest compared to other types of seeds, a practice they have been promoting to local farmers over the past decade.

Avila also revealed a commitment of at least P90 million for fertilizer subsidies to support those using hybrid seeds.

He also mentioned the existence of regular budget allocations, though unspecified how much, to complement their initiatives aimed at bolstering rice programs, corn production, and other high-value crops.

He also mentioned a forthcoming fuel subsidy for farmers utilizing machinery to alleviate the burden of rising pump prices. This subsidy is scheduled for disbursement from the last week of September through the first week of October.

No damage yet

Avila reported that as of now, there have been no documented cases of crop and livestock damage attributable to El Niño in the region. Nevertheless, he urged farmers, particularly in Bohol and Negros Oriental, often regarded as the rice granary of Central Visayas, to initiate preparations.

He said their ongoing efforts to closely monitor regions expected to be significantly impacted by the impending drought.

In Bohol, they have identified approximately 11,000 hectares of farmlands prone to drought, while Negros Oriental has approximately 14,000 drought-prone hectares.

Avila also mentioned exploring alternative interventions, such as diversifying the crops cultivated in these areas.

"Instead of solely focusing on rice, why not consider diversification by cultivating crops like watermelon or lowland vegetables that can withstand drought? We encourage them to explore other crop options," he said.

In Cebu, they continue to monitor the activities of corn planters. (KJF)