CEBU

Editorial: The rice experiment

(Editorial Cartoon by Josua Cabrera)

GOVERNMENT sows a new law into the muddy field of the country’s rice industry.

It liberated rice importation by removing quantitative restrictions (QR), while importers pay a tariff of 35 percent for stocks from Asean members, and 50 percent from others.

The law (Republic Act 11203) dedicates the tariff earnings to generate the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) at P10 billion in the next six years. All of that cash will be used to improve the country’s rice industry, in a manner deemed consultative as stakeholders, including government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, and the National Economic and Development Authority, will have to sit down and formulate the Rice Industry Roadmap.

At the end of the six-year implementation, a mandatory review shall be made by an oversight committee to see if the whole scheme would be worth continuing or revising.

A fading presence in this scheme is the National Food Authority (NFA), now stripped of its regulatory and monitoring role. Some sectors in the agency say removing the cap to rice importation will “definitely hurt” the farmers. “There will be no price monitoring and control as NFA rice will no longer be available through accredited retailers,” NFA acting administration Tomas Escarez said in a statement.

Some 30 employees in NFA-Bohol, led by manager Maria Fe Evasco, wore black Monday, Feb. 18, to register their protest to RA 11203. They said it was “a day of mourning for the death of the rice industry in the Philippines.” The law, they said, had reduced their agency into a mere “buffer stocking agency.”

This is an unsettling revision to the multi-layered rice industry in the country. The QR was set to supposedly protect our farmers from an influx of cheap rice from foreign competitors. With the scrapping of the QR, the subsequent tariffs will be used to fund mass irrigation, warehousing, and rice research. It may also be useful to think of our rice bowls as a design problem, to think of how Vietnam’s Mekong River delivers the bulk. But that’s another story.

For decades, however, the rice industry had been far from perfect. In fact, the country’s agricultural sector has been a “laggard” contributor to the country’s economy. It contributed a mere 0.1 percent to the full growth rate of 6.2 percent, which according to Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno means zero contribution.

Government, in a recent statement, assured that the RCEF will be in good hands as there will be monitoring mechanisms in place.

“We continue to exercise accountability and transparency in all levels of the bureaucracy,” said Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo.

It will be a P10-billion worth of vigilance for the sake of the farmers and the Filipinos’ main staple.


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