Rice Crisis Looms
the staple food of Filipinos. Ironically, the country is now one of the
top importers of rice grains from being a net exporter in the 1980s. With
only six percent of world rice production available in the international
market and with the projected increases in imports to
the Philippines will have to compete with the limited supply by buying at
higher prices. This will be a situation that the
can hardly afford.
AUBREY SC MAKILAN
Prices of rice, the Filipinos’ staple
food, threaten to shoot up as the country, dependent on grains
imports, competes for the limited supply in the world market
PHOTO BY TAMMY DE CASTRO
the Philippine government projection of self-sufficiency in rice by 2009,
the country remains among the world’s top importers of rice grains, being
among the top three in 1999 and fifth highest in 2004. With the potential
increase in the importation of rice grains by China,
the Philippines, which is dependent on rice grain imports since the 1980s,
might be in trouble, said Duncan Macintosh, spokesperson of the
International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).
Rex Estoperez, Director for Public Affairs of the National Food Authority
(NFA), admitted that the only way the country could cope with this
situation is to contract more loans to be able to purchase enough grains
for local consumption.
last six years, Macintosh said, China has been experiencing a decrease in
its production of rice grains. Urban development, liberalized policies,
which resulted to diversified farming, and measures instituted by China to
protect its environment were some of the factors that affected its rice
result, China had to import rice grains.
this is a bad news for the
and good news for the exporters,” he said.
interview with Bulatlat, Macintosh said that in 2004, China
imported only one percent of its domestic demand. But given the population
of China, this was already equivalent to 10 percent of the world’s demand,
said Macintosh, or five times the imports of Indonesia or 10 times that of
the prices in the international market of rice grains increased by 40
percent in 2004. Only six percent of world rice production is traded, said
Macintosh. Thus, supply in the world market is limited. Because of this,
Macintosh said, prices tend to react quickly to changes in demand. Prices
will continue to rise as China increases its imports. Wit the upward trend
in grain prices, importers tend to hoard their supplies thereby triggering
more price increases.
China increases its imports and prices increase, Estoperez admitted they
have no other choice but to contract more loans in order to compete with
other importers. This, he said, is nothing new anyway.
is in charge “of ensuring the food
security of the country and the stability in the supply and price of the
from its imports, the NFA also counts on the imports of private
corporations for its 15-30 day buffer stock.
Estoperez however said they could not force private corporations to import
rice if prices shoot up in the international market. If that happens, the
government needs to further increase its imports by contracting more
loans, he said.
Unfortunately, additional volume in imports would only mean additional
tariff payments and losses for the department, he lamented.
the P900 million budget of the agency is not enough, he said.
that tariff payments alone cost them about P13 billion, excluding the
three to four percent interest payments on loans for paying tariffs. If
the loan was made from commercial banks, higher interest rates of seven to
eight percent per annum are charged.
is currently monitoring the importation of China to be able to prepare for
the stiff competition
being exporter to importer of grains
years ago, the
Philippines was a net
exporter of rice grains. During the Marcos administration, the country was
still able to export a portion of its total produce while leaving the
country with sufficient supply.
However, the slowing growth in farm output has made the Philippines one of
the world’s top rice importers in 2005.
Agricultural output last year rose only 2.24 percent, missing the official
target of three to four percent due to drought, said the Department of
annual consumption of rice per capita has also risen from 90 kilos in 2001
to 115 kilos at present. This is because, Estoperez said, many have
shifted to rice since the price of corn increased.
year, rice grain yield was 14,603,000 metric tons. Despite a not so very
significant decrease in palay (rice grain) production, the NFA almost
doubled its imports from 983, 975 metric tons in 2004 to 1,849, 843 metric
tons last year.
agency normally imports rice every March. But the NFA has already started
importing December last year, to maintain its 15-30 day buffer stock. On
Feb. 7, it again imported 400,000 metric tons of rice grains and is
anticipating the 438,000 metric ton imports of the private sector. Early
importing, Estoperez said, could also prevent competition with other
country is basically dependent on rice importation especially from
Thailand and Vietnam. Whenever there is a rice shortage in the world
market, the food security of the country is also endangered.
even with the planned importations, Willy Marbella, Kilusang Magbubukid ng
Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement in the Philippines) secretary general,
revealed that the country still experiences rice shortages. He said that
in 1995 the NFA had to import more as the expected yield decreased by one
percent thereby affecting the buffer stock. The rice grains yield
continues to decrease annually and the shortage has already hit seven
percent last year.
and the NFA both agreed that one of the main factors that led to the
decrease in rice grain yield is the land-use conversion policy of the
the population increases, area cultivated to rice get smaller,” Estoperez
on the November 2004 report of the National Census and Statistics Office,
land area planted with rice in the seven provinces of Central Luzon, the
rice granary of the country, have dropped by 12.7 percent from 1991 to
2002. Worse, Estoperez added, most fields in Nueva Ecija are prone to
Marbella said that
land conversion intensified during the Ramos administration, in accordance
with its Philippines 2000 or the
Medium Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP).
The 2003 data from
the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council showed that about 40,000 hectares
have already been converted for eco-tourism purposes.
Meanwhile, Marbella also said that there are 2,383 cases involving land
use conversion filed before the
Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB) from 1988-2001.
being a net importer of rice grains, the Philippines still expects to
produce all the rice its growing population needs by 2009, when output is
projected to hit a record 16.7 million metric tons. The government plans
to boost rice grains production by expanding the area planted to hybrid
rice and improving the delivery of irrigation services.
The area planted to hybrid rice is expected to reach 500,000 hectares this
year from around 330,000 hectares last year. The Philippines plants 4.1
million hectares to rice. But, Marbella said, planting hybrid rice
increases the costs of farmers. Hybrid rice are terminator seeds. Unlike
traditional seeds, Marbella said, terminator seeds can be used only once.
Farmers need to buy seeds every planting season.
Estoperez said achieving self sufficiency “depends on the political will
and policy” of its implementors.
Marbella argued that the goal of self-sufficiency in rice is “far from
reality” unless “genuine land reform” is implemented. The country,
Marbella said, can achieve self-sufficiency only if lands are distributed
to the farmers; a moratorium on land use conversion is enforced; and the
country gets out of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Marbella said that prior to the WTO, the country had an agricultural trade
surplus of around US$1.2 billion. But in 1999, the country’s trade in
agriculture resulted in a deficit of US$3.1 billion. In 2001, the deficit
ballooned to US$5.2 billion.
Estoperez admitted that the policy of contracting more loans to secure the
country’s rice grains supply is not sustainable.
high time for us, the Congress and the common tao (common people), to come
up with a better policy,” he said. “’Di pwedeng taun-taon ganyan e.” (We
cannot implement the same policy every year.)
Meanwhile, Marbella cited how Thailand was able to remain as a net
exporter of rice. In an international conference, he asked a Thailander
how they are able to provide for the country’s needs while at the same
time export rice grains. The Thailander shared that their government
subsidizes the needs of rice farmers and has an efficient policy governing
the export of rice grains.
other hand, Estoperez said, the Philippine government has no financial
capacity to subsidize farmers. Bulatlat
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