TWELVE days after Luzon was placed under enhanced community quarantine, more and more Filipinos both food producer and consumer are suffering from hunger. The lockdown has been hurting both the pockets and stomach of the poor and marginalized especially those who rely on a daily income.
While the Department of Agriculture has issued protocol exempting farmers, fishers and workers in food processing and manufacturing from quarantine to ensure unhampered production and distribution of food supply, farmers from various provinces report otherwise. Farmers either could not harvest their palay or could not sell their harvest.
As we are battling the virus and hunger, Vietnam suspended its rice exports to ensure its people’s food security. And so we are reminded that we are also fighting a losing battle to attain food self-sufficiency and self-reliance as the country has increasingly become dependent on rice imports since our membership to the World Trade Organization 25 years ago. For years, liberalization of agriculture has resulted to the neglect of the sector which is reflected in its decreasing budget allocation and its current state of crisis.
With the implementation of RA 11203 or the Rice Liberalization Law, we became the top rice importer in the world. Last year, the country imported 2.1 million metric tons from Vietnam or 33 percent of Vietnam’s 6.37 million metric tons total rice exports and 65 percent of the 3.2 million metric tons total rice imports of the country.
Moreover, as palay farmgate prices dropped, some farmers were forced to sell their lands due to bankruptcy while others changed into cash crops. Farmers were long calling for support subsidies to lower the cost of production and yet, they were only given loan assistance, some "lucky" farmers were given a measly P5, 000 cash assistance.
Rice Liberalization Law has likewise limited the function of the National Food Authority (NFA) to buffer stocking, crippling the state’s power to prevent hoarding and smuggling and ensure sufficient, safe and affordable rice for the poor and marginalized Filipinos.
The country’s dependence on rice importation is never an assurance of food security. Vietnam’s move should be a wake-up call for the government to take the issue of rice self-sufficiency and self-reliance seriously to prepare for circumstances such as Covid-19 and other calamities.
We urge the government to repeal the Rice Liberalization Law and enact House Bill 477 or the Rice Industry Development Act (RIDA) which pushes for the strengthening of the NFA and a Rice Development Program which includes socialized credit, irrigation development, post-harvest facilities, and production support, and the House Bill 239 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill which seeks to distribute lands to the farmers for free and provision of support services and subsidies to farmers and protection of agricultural lands from land-use conversion.
The government should take proactive measures to ensure the country’s food security based on self-sufficiency and self-reliance for a battle cannot be won through half-hearted methods. We cannot fight in a war on an empty stomach.
National Federation of Peasant Women (Amihan)