Some rice farmers have been recognized under the “Masaganang Ani 300”, a program similar to the “Masagana 99” program of the Marcos administration but bigger and uncontroversial.
The ‘Masaganang 99’ program, which former President Ferdinand Marcos launched in 1973, was meant to increase the country’s rice productivity only to leave the farmers buried in debt.
On Wednesday, SL Agritech Corporation (SLAC), the biggest hybrid rice producer in the Philippines, recognized farmers who participated in its own version of Marcos’ program, which the company now calls ‘Masaganang Ani 300’.
Under the program, SLAC awarded cash prize ranging from P100,000 to P300,000 to rice farmers who were able to produce more than 300 sacks of hybrid rice per hectare.
The Masaganang Ani program aims to make the Philippines, the world’s top rice importer, self-sufficient in rice.
The number 99, which is now 300 in SLAC’s version of the program, refers to the number of sacks of rice produced per hectare of land every harvest.
The Marcos’ program initially made the nation self-sufficient in rice, but it turned out to be unsustainable because local farmers couldn’t pay the loans they obtained to purchase certified seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides needed to grow the said amount of rice.
Just in May, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the program was a failure and sent hundreds of banks to bankruptcy.
For his part, SLAC Chief Executive Officer Henry Lim Bon Liong said that with all the technology now and the availability of more rice seeds varieties, it is now possible for Filipino rice farmers to aim for higher rice productivity.
“When we launched this project, with DA [Department of Agriculture] and GoNegosyo, my dream is that all farmers that produced 300 cavans per hectare should be recognized. They should be in Malacañang and recognized by the President,” Lim said.
“The President should know that there’s still hope for the Philippines to become self-sufficient. We should also support hybrid rice,” he added.
Under SLAC’s Masaganang Ani 300 program, farmers were able to produce 305 cavans to 339 cavans of rice per hectare, amounting to about 15 metric tons (MT) of rice.
At present, the national yield per hectare average is 4.07 MT at a production cost of P12 per kilogram (/kg), based on the latest quarterly data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).
The DA is targeting to increase this to national average rice yield of 6 MT per hectare at P8/kg production cost.
In April 2017, the government launched the Masaganang Ani 200 program, which should raise farmers’ rice yield to 200 cavans per hectare in an aim to stop importation and stabilize food supply as globally traded rice declines.
During the virtual awarding ceremony of Masaganang Ani 300 program, Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion encouraged farmers to keep on producing more rice and become more competitive.
He also said that it’s now the time for the entire agriculture sector “to shine” because it is the only sector that is “insulated” from the pandemic since other sectors like retail and tourism had no choice but to stop operations during the COVID-19 triggered lockdown.
“More or less, the agriculture sector is shielded from the COVID-19 pandemic. In other sectors, there was totally no activity,” Concepcion said.
“The virus is not yet over but the government could no longer do anything. If we will be on lockdown again, it will be harder for everyone. Poor economy will lead to poor health. This is the price we have to pay for locking down. Our economy is shattered,” he added.
Over the past months, small farmers and fishermen have been seeking support from the government as they bear the brunt of the pandemic.