The country’s rice war: Who wins?-A A +A
Meet the Countryside
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
RICE is our primary staple food; the most important food crop of the Filipinos. It is our most valuable agricultural commodity. The country is 8th largest rice producer in the world (FAO, 2009); but, ironically, we were the world's largest rice importer in 2010 (Reuters, 2011). As such, the P232-billion rice industry is most contentious and controversial – the bone of contention is the control of the industry.
The small numbers of the other contending party in the rice industry are powerfully influential and immensely moneyed that impact on the general public with disdain and total disregard for the common good. The prices of rice as regards supply and demand in fact can make or bring down the best of our government servants.
So, who controls the rice industry? In the mid-1960s, the government was in control. The country was attaining a substantial growth in rice yield at an average of 4.6 percent annually for 15 years. This was achieved through improved genetics and cultivation of high-yielding “miracle” rice varieties. In 1968, with the re-election of President Marcos and Vice President Lopez who was also concurrent Secretary of Agriculture, the Philippines became a rice exporter for the first time. And, Minister Tanco launched the innovative Masagana 99 rice production program that revolutionized the rice industry and made the Philippine both self-sufficient in white corn and a rice exporter until 1980 (DA-Region 9, 2010/Country Study, 2009).
In 1980-85, rice production declined with the average annual growth down to a mere 0.9 percent. Growth was not sustained. This was mainly attributed to drying out crop loans, increasing prices of agricultural inputs, and decreasing palay prices. The decline was also attributed to the general economic downturn in the 1980s, typhoons and drought, and the 1983-85 economic crises (Country Study, 2009), as rice imports was conversely increasing.
But, how much decline could have been attributed to lip service; or, government mismanagement and incompetence in ensuring the sufficient production and the supply of rice stocks, e.g. NFA buying price, import, inventory, and production support policy? Or, rather, how much could have been attributed to a rice cartel, which causes artificial increase in the prices of commodities; the rice hoarders that create artificial rice shortage; and, the smugglers and economic saboteurs in cohorts with unscrupulous government personnel?
And, thus, the country was unable to export rice again during the 1980-1991period. We were importing rice in spite the Intensive Rice Production Program, an import-substitution program launched in May 1984 by Minister Escudero. In February 1986, Minister Mitra reformed the agricultural credit system, including the facing out of direct lending scheme. Minister Dominguez introduced a corrective credit reforms to expand the rural credit in May 1987. Then, Minister Bacani was appointed in January 1990. Under his Rice Action Program, despite the natural calamities that truck the country, we were able to export rice again by 1992. Bacani’s Corn Production Enhancement Program (CPEP) also resulted in self-sufficiency in white corn (DA-Region, 2010).
In 1992, Secretary Sebastian took over the helm of the Department of Agriculture (DA). As point man of the DA’s Key Production Approach, he pushed the Medium-Term Agricultural Development Plan and his Grains Production Enhancement Program (GPEP) patterned after Bacani’s CPEP, which laid down the country’s foundation for competitiveness in a world of free trade. He could have been hideously removed from office by crooks in government service and the ugly contending rice party.
Since then the top DA position changed hands ten times in 14 years: In June 1996, Escudero was re-appointed for another term. In quick succession, came William D. Dar in June 1998, Edgardo Angara, and Domingo Panganiban. In the same fashion, they were followed by Leonardo Montemayor in March 2001; Luis P. Lorenzo Jr. in December 2002, who spearheaded the rice hybridization programs; Arthur Yap in August 2004; Panganiban; Yap in October 2006; and Bernie Fondevilla in March 2010 (DA-Region 9, 2010). In many ways, self-sufficiency and exporting rice was relegated in the back burners during this period of rapid succession. It seems like no one dared venture to cross the path of the entrenched ugly rice contenders.
There are now organized calls for the ouster of DA Secretary Proceso J. Alcala, who made his bones by pursuing increased rice production and do away with rice imports by 2013. Like former Secretary Sebastian, Secretary Alcala could possibly be a victim of an ugly proxy cold war. Nevertheless, here’s a man who stands for what it should be. Even for his self-sufficiency in rice declarations alone, it would be most significant to keep the incumbent DA Secretary going. If not, the self-vested contenders will continue winning – the good, the common good, and the general public lose. [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on September 25, 2013.