“Hindi rosas kundi bigas [Not rose but rice].”
Department of Agriculture ( DA) Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said this on Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, as he urged Filipinos to prioritize buying rice directly from farmers’ cooperatives and associations.
At 8 a.m. , the DA will start the sale of cheaper commercial rice to prove that the staple’s high cost in the markets was a result of manipulation by traders.
In an interview with DZRH on Wednesday, Piñol said his agency would sell rice at P38 a kilo in front of the DA central office on Elliptical Road in Quezon City that would mark the start of a nationwide program directly connecting rice farmers with consumers.
“‘(Y)ong ating experiment na ‘to will mark a national campaign na talagang magbubukas ang DA ng mga espasyo para sa ating farmers’ cooperatives, farmers’ groups,” the DA chief said.
“Umpisa pa lang ito [This is just the start], experimentation actually, and we would like to take a look at the reaction of the people. Actually, limitado lang ‘yong supply namin pero dadagsain kami (so) nag-reserve na rin kami ng commercial rice [Actually, our supply is just limited but we will be swamped by buyers, so we also reserved commercial rice],” said Piñol.
He said the DA’s Bigas ng Masa Tienda Direct Marketing Program had sourced its supply from rice complexes nationwide that were being operated by farmers’ cooperatives and associations and were built during the previous administration.
“‘Yong mga rice complexes na ito na operated by cooperatives and associations dito manggagaling ang bigas na idi-distribute natin locally, tutulungan natin silang magkaroon ng additional capital,” said Piñol.
The DA chief said he had the rice complexes inventoried and the department had loaned the cooperatives and associations between P350,000 and P1 million so they could operate the complexes and make sure these have power supply.
“So pinautang natin dati ng tig P350,000, P1 million para mabayaran nila ‘yong koneksyon at ma-operate ‘yong rice complexes” he said.
In his Facebook post on Tuesday, the DA secretary said he had directed DA Undersecretary for Policy and Planning Segfredo Serrano and Undersecretary for Agribusiness and Marketing Bernadette Romulo Puyat “to prepare a national program where DA will assist farmers’ groups, associations and cooperatives, including irrigators’ associations, in the milling, packaging and marketing of their rice produce which would be sold directly to consumers. ”
The DA’s regional directors “will be asked to initially allow farmers’ groups to use open spaces in the DA regional offices to serve as the outlets of their rice produce,” according to Piñol.
“After that, Bigas ng Masa TienDA will be established in every town throughout the country to provide consumers with affordable freshly-milled rice direct from the farms.”
“Farmers groups will be assisted by the DA so that they will be in complete control of their farm operations – from plowing, planting, harvesting, milling, packaging and marketing.”
Also, the DA chief said the program would be linked with the Land Bank of the Philippines, “where I sit as member of the Board of Directors, so that farmers’ groups we will provided with a working capital so they could buy their members’ produce.”