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Response to rice crisis

If you think the recent spike in rice prices was a disaster, then you ain’t seen nothing yet.

The real rice crisis will happen soon when our rice tariff becomes 35 percent with the coming rice trade liberalization.

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A Philrice study led by Dr. Flordeliza Bordey showed that Filipino rice farmers need a 70-percent tariff rate to survive.

So why 35 percent, and not 70 percent? Because 70 percent is the agreed-upon Asean tariff rate.

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The Philippines is the only  country in the world that still has quantitative restrictions on rice importation.

After many years of allowing us to postpone rice trade liberalization, we must now bite the bullet after our government failed to prepare our farmers with necessary competitive enhancement measures such as credit, technology, marketing,  and other support services.

The 35-percent tariff is a bitter pill to swallow and it is also exceedingly dangerous.

This is because our farmers in 53 of 82 (or 65 percent) rice producing provinces have an average yield of less than four tons per hectare.

This is the minimum yield required to survive the 35-percent tariff rate.

The response to this  crisis is a Department of Agriculture (DA)-recommended rice road map.

On Oct. 30, it was presented at the Annual Rice Policy Forum  of the Asia Rice Foundation chaired by Dr. Santiago Obien and moderated by Dr. Emil Javier.

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It was sponsored by groups such as DA, Philippine Rice Institute (PRRI), and the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines (CAMP).

With the 35-percent rice tariff, the road map recognized that the great majority of our rice farmers will not be competitive, and will therefore suffer significantly from this low tariff.

Consequently, a P20-billion annual fund was proposed to be given to these  farmers in “decoupled payments,” a World Trade Organization approved procedure.

This entails giving qualified farmers P7,500  per harvested hectare per year.

Romeo Royandoyan, Alyansa Agrikultura convenor,  said this was not sufficient.

He decried the position of some economic leaders that importing rice and just giving safety nets in  decoupled payments would address our rice and food security problem.

He asks:  “What will happen if imported rice becomes very expensive and even possibly unavailable because of climate change?”

The proposed rice road map seeks to address this situation by promising the currently missing  support services to enable our rice farmers to become globally competitive.

In addition, it will promote farm diversification for products beyond rice for increased farmer income.

Director Rey Castro of Philrice, Batac, Ilocos Norte, proposed diversified farming as early as 2000 to include products such as onion, garlic, and mungbean  in rice farms. We currently import a huge percentage of these products (48 percent, 11 percent, and 52 percent, respectively), when we can produce them profitably and keep the jobs and incomes here instead of sending them abroad. Castro saw farmer incomes improve  significantly. This is not surprising.

Many  global studies prove that it is diversified farming that is the most successful tool in raising small farmer incomes.

Castro’s pioneering effort became a national DA program called Palayamanan. Unfortunately, support for Palayamanan was stopped a few years ago. At the forum, it was revealed that only 18 percent of our rice farmers practice agriculture diversification.

The remaining 82 percent sadly still rely on a monocrop rice system that is facing a severe threat from the 35-percent tariff scheme.

The rice  road map has made a very good start in finally putting together and integrating the badly needed science- based approaches to our agricultural development.

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TAGS: Dr. Flordeliza Bordey, rice crisis, rice prices
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