Agri chief: Marcos' ₱20/kilo rice proposal only possible with bigger gov't funding

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 21) — It will take time before President-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. can actualize his proposal to bring down the price of rice to as low as ₱20 per kilo, unless he immediately pushes for an increased funding and buffer stock, outgoing Agriculture Secretary William Dar said Tuesday.

"If this is an immediate aspiration, it will take some time before we can really go to that level," Dar told CNN Philippines' New Day, a day after Marcos announced that he will temporarily take on the role of agriculture chief so the government can respond quickly to severe problems faced by the sector.

READ: Marcos to take charge of Dept. of Agriculture 'for now' 

In a separate briefing, Dar said "the nearest we can go by now is ₱27.50 per kilogram," and to reach the desired ₱20 a kilo in six years, local production of inbred and hybrid rice must be significantly raised.

Meanwhile, former Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol told CNN Philippines' The Source that Marcos' idea is "not economically viable," and would only cause huge losses for the government.

During the campaign period, Marcos promised to lower rice prices to as much as ₱20 a kilo — an idea which raised doubts among some people in the agricultural sector due to the rising costs of production and transportation, along with other basic commodities.

Even Conrado Estrella III, the incoming agrarian reform chief, said it would be difficult to turn Marcos' aspiration into reality for now due to the market's current situation.

READ: Incoming DAR chief: ₱20/kilo of rice hard to attain at this time 

Dar said there are immediate ways to bring down rice prices closer to the disired level, but it mainly entails bigger allocation.

"Immediately, the president can issue an executive order increasing the buffer stocking capacity and capability of the National Food Authority from the present seven-day buffer stock that we have based on their budget of ₱7 billion to a level of minimum 30-day buffer stocking," Dar said.

"You have to give additional budget for the NFA and the budget for capital expenditure…By the end of the year if that is possible, they can have a 15-day capacity level of buffer stock, then starting next year, that can go to a level of 30-day buffer stock," he added.

At present, the country's buffer stock is 300,000 metric tons equivalent to supply for seven days.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua earlier said Marcos'₱20 per kilo of rice proposal is possible, but only if "support to rice farmers are very targeted and efficient," warning against providing production subsidy that is not tied to output. He also said the Rice Tariffication Law — which replaced quantitative restrictions on imported rice with 35-40% tariffs that are used to help farmers improve productivity — needs to be maintained.

"If we are going to use taxpayers' money solely to subsidize without conditions and without any productivity measure, the rice production, then that's a bad idea," Chua said in a briefing in May.

For his part, incoming Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said the proposal is attainable if the government would also opt to target lower-priced food to the needy groups since the government does not have the luxury to subsidize everyone.

Dar said the agency has been proposing an annual funding of more ₱200 billion, but it was only granted an ₱85.5-billion budget for 2022.

He also said Marcos' initiative to take over the Department of Agriculture is a "welcome development," expressing hope that the sector would finally reach a higher growth level. He is optimistic that sufficient budget would be provided to boost farmers' productivity and to implement other programs and innovations to address the imminent food crisis.

CNN Philippines' Glee Jalea, Mel Lopez, and Pilar Manuel contributed to this report.