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Irony of importing ‘GG’

For a country blessed with vast agricultural lands and the fifth longest shoreline in the world (36,289 kilometers), it is ironic that the Philippines has to import rice and fish to help meet the food requirements of its citizens.

In May, the National Food Authority gave the go-ahead to import 250,000 metric tons of rice from Vietnam and Thailand to offset the expected rice shortage in the coming months.

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It will be sold at subsidized (or lower than commercial) prices to mitigate the adverse effects of the unprecedented inflation rate the country is going through.

Early this month, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol signed an order allowing the importation of 12,000 metric tons of “galunggong” (round scad).

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Fondly called “GG” by local folks, this fish is considered staple food for the underprivileged members of our society. The rise and fall of its price was, for many years, looked at as the true measure of the country’s inflation rate.

Ahead of the arrival of imported GG, the Department of Health has warned the public about eating those from China that may be treated with formalin (the chemical substance used to preserve cadavers) to make them look fresh.

Some sectors have expressed concern that these may have been harvested from areas within the country’s exclusive economic zone. Buying them would be akin to the Philippines being fried in its lard.

Amid all these, the question is posed: Where did we go wrong that in spite of God-given bounties of fertile lands and rich fishing grounds, the government has to buy rice and fish from other countries to feed our people?

Our Asean neighbors that are not similarly blessed with those assets must be silently laughing at the way we have mismanaged our natural resources.

To think that the International Rice Research Institute, the agency tasked with improving rice varieties and their production, is based in the Philippines and the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, Laguna, was, for many years, the training ground for Asian agricultural students.

Some economists believe it is in the Philippines’ best interests to just import rice from countries that produce them more efficiently than produce them domestically due to high operational costs.

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This means the Philippines will focus on the production of high value products and export them to make up (and more) for the foreign reserves it will spend to pay for imported rice.

They point to Singapore and Hong Kong, two financially well-off places with limited natural resources and yet are able to provide their citizens ample food supply, as proof of the soundness of that proposition.

In theory, it looks good, but the reality on the ground is there are hardly any such products the country can produce and export profitably that other countries are not already producing efficiently and have gained international patronage.

Sadly, the “Philippine-made products” that meet those economists’ criteria are overseas Filipino workers who work as domestic helpers or take on jobs that foreign nationals consider menial.

For now, the government can source rice and fish from other countries to augment dwindling domestic supply. But for how long? The time will come when those countries may decide to hold back on the export of their products to give priority to the food requirements of their own citizens, or sell them at outrageous prices to take advantage of the scarce market.

Hopefully, the importation of rice and galunggong will accomplish its announced objective to mitigate the adverse effects of the present high inflation rate on the people.

Otherwise, with the 2019 elections just months away, the price of basic commodities—in particular, rice—would be an albatross around the neck of the administration’s national and local candidates.

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TAGS: Business, Fish, import rice, Philippines, Price
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