Sunday, September 19, 2021

Domondon: Thinking about rice (Part one)

Open Season

I WAS browsing over the recent posts in Facebook of former Department of Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol and I was glad to learn that on November 14 and 15 the Mindanao Development Authority (which Sec. Manny now heads) and the City of Baguio have agreed to hold another leg of the MinDa Tienda sa Cordillera. This is a welcome relief for a lot of Baguio folks in the hunt for reasonably priced fruits and other native food products from Mindanao as well as other provinces in that southern corner of the archipelago. Among the fruits in Mindanao that might just find its way to Baguio in November include the obnoxious smelling but heavenly tasting durian, marang, lanzones and pomelo. Minda cabinet secretary Piñol also mentioned that other provinces in Mindanao will also bring in sea products such as those coming from Tawi-Tawi and Sulu, to include dried fish from the Zamboanga peninsula. Meat products will also be sold in the tienda caravan such as beef from pine-apple fed cows.

All in all it will be another wonderful opportunity to experience what the best in Mindanao has to offer to the residents of the City of Baguio. So prepare your eco-bags and start saving until next week so you can join the fun in the Minda Tienda sa Cordillera.

Now talking about food CabSec Piñol also posted in his FB account an emerging grim scenario regarding our rice farmers, the implementation of the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL), and our struggle to become self-sufficient, at least in rice production. By using data and information from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) CabSec Manny revealed that local rice production has dropped drastically because of very low farm gate prices. The PSA report also showed that the Philippine Rice Self-Sufficiency Ration (SSR) for 2019 dropped to only 79.8 percent from a previous 86.2 percent in 2018, down 6.8 percentage points, when rice production then, according to CabSec Manny, was 19.04 million metric tons. He added that the highest rice harvest in the country in history was achieved in 2017 when the palay output then was 19.28 million metric tons due to a favorable climate and the increase in use of hybrid seeds, as well as the profitable price for farmers selling their palay.

What the former DA secretary is actually implying is that due to the implementation of the RTL our rice farmers in the country can no longer sell their palay at the farm gate price of almost 20 pesos per kilo as before and can now only sell it at around 11 to 14 pesos per kilo. CabSec Manny then bared that the Department of Agriculture has confirmed that in 2019 at least 50,000 hectares of rice farms have been abandoned by farmers who have shifted to other types of crops to grow because of the low prices.

Now what exactly is the reason behind the low selling price of palay? Simple, according to CabSec Manny it is due to the implementation of the RTL which allowed the unimpeded importation of rice from other countries. In case there is any doubt on what the former DA secretary is saying the present DA Secretary William Dar has admitted to the public (through the media) that the decline in the country's SSR of rice is mainly due to the initial implementation of the RTL which opened the floodgates for more cheap imports.

There you go. Because of the RTL cheap imports (rice and other products) are flooding the domestice market which in turn has gravely affected the income of rice farmers who rely on the palay that they sell and which has ultimately resulted and forced them to abandon their rice farms in favor of other crops which might offer better prices at the market. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? May be some would say it is a good thing for domestic consumers since they would be buying imported food products at cheap prices. Others might also say, such as CabSec Manny and myself, that if we abandon our rice farmers who grow and harvest our local staple then we degrade our ability to be self sufficient and agriculturally independent in favor of cheap imported products from foreign countries.

But before anything else we need to understand what the RTL is all about. Is it good for the nation or further drown us in uncertainty as far as food security is concerned. More on that later.


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