THE recent news reports that Philippines is now the top global importer of rice at 3.1M metric tons (MT) this year from 1.9M MT in 2018 is chilling and like a death foretold for our agriculture.
All the while our people were made to believe by government technocrats and so called experts and scientists of the Department of Agriculture (DA) that we are nearing to become food self-reliant. The past DA Secretary Manny Piñol was even so arrogantly emphatic on this claim.
With the “unli rice” so popular now in big food chains and small restaurants, who would say that our country is having a food and rice crisis?
Yes, our domestic market is now flooded with rice, vegetables, fruits, spices, and other basic crops.
A big percentage of these, however, are imported and the government pays them in dollars, commissions of state officials and private brokers not included.
We also don’t know whether they are healthy and safe or not especially in view of the proliferation of GMO and toxic products produced by multinational corporations.
Importation gives government justifications to increase taxes, let loose food price increases without government price stabilization measure.
Importation is also a big racket business for state officials and their private cohorts. They illegally earn millions in this operations from big traders and importers.
Traditionally, our farmers produce them- practically all that is in our food system, from farms to market, and everything we put on our dining table.
In rural and urban areas, families with small piece of lands usually grow what they eat, buying only non agri based and personal care items.
This practice and lifestyle are no longer true today. People buy everything they need, in malls and convenient stores. Social and tri media have played important role in changing their food habits, hence their mindset and values too.
This is exactly the effect of the underlying philosophy of government’s neoliberal policies of liberalization, deregulation and privatization.
Liberalization of agriculture is the government policy. It does not want this nation to feed itself from its own rich productive lands but depend on imports, on leasing our lands to foreign companies for other non agri use.
In the case of rice, farms hectarage planted to rice drops almost every year by .4-1%, and this year at 4.7M has from almost 5M has in 2018. And with Rice Tariffication Act in full swing, let’s expect more imports in years ahead.
They argue that it is better and cheaper to import food than produce our own at higher production cost, like in rice, sugar, corn, vegetables, and livestock.
That’s their concept of food security, it doesn’t matter where it is produced, so long as it is available anytime.
True, we may have enough at some point in time, but we can’t be assured all the time, because international conditions, laws and agreements and relations are changing. More countries are increasingly protective of their own economies to avoid national food crisis, financial crisis, and many other crisis.
Sooner or later we can’t just imports what we want or anytime we want, because the government will be spending more for every import it makes due to protectionism.
The strong and lasting position we should take is work for our food sovereignty, which means, set our own national policies on agriculture, disband private land monopolies and distribute to real tillers, invest and modernize our agriculture, support our agricultural forces specially small agricultural producers, grow organic food in each province and ban GMO food, and value agriculture as a great national asset, a science and a noble profession.
When our nation grows and feeds on our own food, and people have access to safe healthy and cheaper food anytime they need them, and stops enriching the super malls and multinational food companies, that’s the time we can truly claim we are food secured and sovereign.