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Rice self-sufficiency costly, ADB warns

Agri chief says gov’t program to benefit farmers

Contrary to popular notion, the goal of the Philippines to produce sufficient volume of rice to end its dependency on imports by 2013 is actually imprudent.

This was the opinion of the Asian Development Bank, which cited the high cost of investments required to achieve self-sufficiency in rice and the surpluses of the vital commodity in neighboring countries.

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Lourdes Adriano of the ADB’s rural development and regional sustainability department said in a press briefing on Thursday that the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries would benefit if they would enhance rice-trade cooperation.

In particular, she said the countries should strike a deal wherein rice importers like the Philippines would be given guaranteed allocation by exporting countries such as Thailand and Vietnam. The positive consequences are that the importers will not have to spend heavily on investments for rice self-sufficiency and exporters will gain more market access and maintain healthy export revenues.

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“Self-sufficiency is not a bad policy if one can afford it and if resources for the production of other crops, such as coconut, are not taken away,” Adriano said. She stressed, however, that scarcity of resources makes efforts toward rice self-sufficiency very costly.

The ADB executive also cited the fact that the Philippine government continued to have a budget deficit. The deficit made it unwise for the government to spend so much on projects and programs for boosting the country’s rice production when it could simply import the commodity at less cost from countries having more than enough.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala strongly rebuked the criticism, saying he was more concerned about pushing the welfare of farmers than serving foreign interests. Asked to comment on suggestions that the Philippines cooperate more with its partners in Asean, the official replied: “Are they doing their share for that purpose?”

Alcala said achieving rice self-sufficiency was a decision made by the government for the benefit of its farmers. “At the end of the day, let’s look at whether the global demand is rising or falling. Based on our data, global demand is still rising. So why think of importing? Let us be the ones to export, and we will do that by next year,” he said.

“If we don’t have the capability, then let’s keep importing. But since we have the means to be self-sufficient by our own programs, I don’t see any reason why we will not make the country self-sufficient in its staple,” he said.

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TAGS: Asian Development Bank (ADB), Department of Agriculture, food, Philippines, rice, rice self-sufficiency
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