By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Anakpawis Representative Rafael Mariano today said that a looming rice crisis is “a real problem” that cannot be addressed by palliative and short-term solutions but by “real solutions.”
Mariano issued the statement after the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (Nica) said that “one of the possible flash points being watched by the local intelligence community was the supply and prices of rice worldwide.”
“The imminent rice crisis is a real problem in the country that no amount of palliative solution can address. Only real solutions are needed to avert a looming rice crisis by implementing major policy reversals and sustained rice production,” Mariano said.
Mariano, who is also chairman of the peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, said the looming rice crisis could be worse than the ones that hit the country in 1995 and 2008.
“This food security problem will exacerbate social and political tensions. It’s swiftly turning into a national security concern,” he said. “In the previous rice crises, we have seen long queues of people at NFA warehouses. Now, the imminent rice crisis might bring about mammoth protests and food riots unless correctly and determinedly addressed.”
According to reports, the contents of the Nica document was already known to President Benigno Aquino III and that they were discussed during the first meeting of the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) last February 28.
The Nica report questioned the ability of the Philippine government to continue shouldering the costs of importing rice because it was already burdened with expenses incurred in repatriating Filipino workers from troubled countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Some of the points raised by the report regarding the looming rice crisis were weather disturbances worldwide, flooding, cold spell, reduction of productions of rice-producing countries and sharp declines in international food production.
“There is a growing pattern of rice-importing nations already purchasing or locking up the dwindling supply of rice in the face of lower production of both rice and wheat.”
This, the report said, could lead to higher costs of imported rice. According to the intelligence agency’s reckoning, the Philippines way very behind countries when in came to food security and that threats of a food crisis has reached a point of the matter becoming an issue of national security.
“What is more troubling is our very own weather is contributing to lower rice production,” the report said. It went on to say that a shortage may open the door for “private traders … to create an artificial supply-demand inequality that could lead to higher prices.”
The report also made recommendations that rice importation should be protected from kickbacks because a shortage will benefit only a rice cartel that continues to operate in the country. It recommended that President Aquino require the National Food Authority (NFA) to submit a detailed report on rice availability and measures being undertaken to ensure supply.
Internal and External Factors
Mariano said “a convergence of both internal and external factors will bring out an unprecedented rice crisis. The internal factors include the government’s neglect of rice farmers and production, massive conversion of rice lands to other uses, unbridled rice importation, the planned abolition of the National Food Authority, corruption of agricultural funds, and rice cartel monopoly, among others.”
On the other hand, Mariano said, the external factor would be “the tightening of supply and shooting up of rice prices in the world market that will be triggered by the Philippines’ increased dependency.”
“The country being the No. 1 rice importer, cornering a bulk of world supply, has drastically affected the movement of rice prices in the world market,” Mariano, author of the HB 3105 or the proposed Rice Industry Development Act, said.
Mariano called on the House of Representatives to immediately consider HB 3105 which seeks the holistic development of the local rice industry that includes the following as core programs: a) direct credit for rice farmers, b) subsidy for production inputs, c) development of irrigation systems and post-harvest facilities, d) strengthening of the palay procurement capability of the National Food Authority (NFA) and upgrading of the distribution and marketing of rice, e) provision for extension services, and f) import control.
An Ironic Crisis
In the meantime, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-National Capital Region (Bayan-NCR) warned President Aquino that social unrest will erupt because rice supplies continues to shrink and as prices continue to rise.
The group said the government only sees external factors behind the country’s rice woes, and blamed the government’s framework policy of dependency on rice imports and lack of support for local farmers and the agriculture industry to boost domestic rice production.
“It’s ironic that the country faces a rice crisis considering that the Philippines is an agricultural country,” the group said.
Bayan-NCR also cited results of the recent survey of the Social Weather Station (SWS) stating that a sharp increase of hunger incidence in the country is expected once rice prices increase.
The group said the Aquino administration should offer long-term, concrete solutions to the problem rather than relying on patch-up solutions and measures intensifying rice importation.
“The government has no one to blame but itself and its policies of following commitment and dictates of the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade-World Trade Organization (GATT-WTO) since 1994 which immediately liberalized Philippine agriculture and had caused a slash on local rice production and increased our dependence on rice importation,’ says Paulo Quiza, NCR spokesperson of Bayan.
“President Aquino still has options to address and head off the looming crisis. The government should increase domestic rice production by implementing a genuine agrarian reform program, break local rice cartels, put an end to conversion of rice and crop farms to non-agricultural uses, leave the WTO and scrap deals that give land rights to foreigners,” he said.
Quiza said that if President Aquino will not implement measures of this sort, “Then he must brace himself for the sight of long queues of people lining the streets demanding food. He should also prepare himself for widespread social unrest as people demand access to affordable food and social services,” he said.