Rice self-sufficiency is still the way to go

27.12.2017

The El Niño episode in 1997-1998 dried up farmlands all over the country and forced the government to import a record 2.17 million metric tons of rice. Officials were left with no other recourse but to buy the staple from neighboring Southeast Asian countries as paddy production fell by 24 percent. The ill effects of the weather phenomenon also prompted the government to rethink its development strategy and shoot for rice self-sufficiency.

It was in 1998 when former President Fidel V. Ramos launched the use of hybrid rice technology as a national development strategy, according to the Philippine Rice Research Institute. Four years later, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo launched the Hybrid Rice Commercialization Project as a cornerstone of the government’s rice self-sufficiency program. But it was only in 2008 when the government saw the need to set aside more money to produce more paddy.

The Philippines was forced to buy imported rice at more than $1,000 per metric ton in 2008, after exporters like India and Cambodia banned rice shipments. The problems faced by the government that year forced them to seriously consider pouring more money into the rice self-sufficiency program.

The rice crisis of 2008 showed Philippine officials that it is no longer viable to rely on the production of other countries to fill the shortfall in its annual output.

Ten years later, the Philippines continues to import rice. Despite the billions of pesos poured into the self-sufficiency bid, local output remains unable to satisfy the rice demand of all Filipinos. This is a due to a number of factors, such as population growth and the lack of irrigated areas where rice can be planted. Growing rice requires huge amounts of water, so there really is a need to expand irrigated farmlands.

The recent announcement of Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol that the Duterte administration is bent on achieving rice self-sufficiency is welcome news. This means that the government is ready to provide the agriculture sector the resources needed to do this.

According to data from the National Irrigation Administration, 2.4 million hectares of farmlands continue to lack irrigation. The agency attached to the Office of the President was given a budget of P40 billion for 2018. This amount, however, needs to be increased annually so it could irrigate more areas and help the government hit its rice self-sufficiency goal.

Also, there should be no let up in government efforts to encourage people to reduce their consumption of white rice. The President himself promoted the consumption of the so-called rice-corn (Rico) blend. Convincing more people to cut their white-rice consumption would help prop up domestic rice supply.

Farmers should also be encouraged to continue using high-yielding varieties, such as hybrid rice.

As the Philippines would soon convert import caps into tariffs, the Department of Agriculture should now roll out the necessary measures to prepare farmers for the influx of cheap rice in the domestic market. The Executive branch must not wait for Congress to approve a substitute bill amending Republic Act  8178 before it provides the assistance needed by farmers to cope with the possible entry of more imported rice. Local production must be encouraged to prevent a repeat of the rice crisis of 2008.


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