“WE ARE bathing rice” shouted the national papers e.g. Inquirer -the most widely read national paper. It refers to millions tons of rice imported and found “rotting”. I can remember a consultant of the Department of Agrarian Reform telling more than 10 years ago that “rice is a political commodity”. In short politics and political decisions control the amount of rice available for all of us to consume and even produce by our farmers.
This might be a late reaction but I have to look into official data in agrarian reform communities (ARCs) in the Cordillera on rice production, consumption and profit. “Agricultural productivity and income improvement” is one of the most important measure of development in ARCs. Rice and corn are the major products monitored by the DAR in arcs. The DAR keeps on investing billions of pesos to develop arcs. With the National Irrigation Administration and the Department of Public Works and Highways and other agencies, the DAR keeps building irrigation systems and farm-to market roads leading to ARCs is just one of the examples of government investments in arcs.
There are 86 arcs in the Cordillera. More than 60% are upland and planted to rice paddies measuring about 50 to 500 sq. meters. Most of these upland ARCs buy rice from traders or from outlets of the National Food Authority which are found mostly in towns. The NFA is an inevitable source of rice for these ARCs which are populated by indigenous peoples. To augment rice these upland households use camote as a substitute for rice. Or the households mixed camote with rice. This is an old practice. Some households in the remotest arcs still practiced this recipe of rice with camote. Such recipes can be more nutritious can in-fact be more nutritious. But due to the use pesticides and fungicides, quality of camote is not anymore available. The soil is not any more good for camote as it is for rice.
Upland arcs can plant rice twice in a year. There are several upland arcs that plant rice once in a year. According to official data from Department of Agrarian Reform, 25 (29 percent) of the 86 ARCs in the Cordillera are self- sufficient in rice production. Tabuk ARC in Kalinga is the tops the list. Tabuk exports the “unoy” (organic) rice abroad. Ifugao has six arcs that are self- sufficient in rice production. Alfonso Lista, Hingyon and Lamut. Abra has 11 arc that are self sufficient in rice production. La Paz, leads the group followed by Villaviciosa and Bucay arcs. The rest of the 61 (71 percent) arcs of the Cordillera are not self sufficient in rice production. Benguet is the only none-rice producing province composed of It has 18 arcs.
The point is: households in upland arcs need rice which they can buy from NFA or the traders that have links to NFA. For now, buying rice is much easier to do than planting and pounding rice. Again, nutrition can be in an issue here. Accordingly pounded rice from far-flung areas like some of the arcs is more nutritious especially with vitamins B12. Vitamin B12 according to a doctor-friend has something to do with the nervous system, which include the brain and nerves flowing from the brain to all parts of the body. But the routine and lifestyles of these upland households have changed across time. They have siblings working abroad who send them money. Household incomes are not any more very dependent on agriculture or rice production for that matter.
Education has become the foremost priority of the households in arcs. For households who depend from growing rice for most of their incomes, less and less children of these households prefer not to work in the rice paddies. They find it more profitable to work somewhere as temporary carpenters, construction workers and doing other odd jobs to earn for school fees, rather than work on the paddies of their families. It is not profitable. Better to buy rice FROM THE MARKET than to plant it. Just look at Banaue rice terraces.
WHICH IS CHEAPER TO DO, DO IT. This is a simplified rule of thumb in economics- the allocation of resources. Resources include labor. Investing in rice paddies is no more economical for most farmers in far-flung arcs and even some arcs in the lowlands. For a 250 sq. meter of rice paddy, a farmer needs to invest in fertilizers that can cost from P1,200 to 1,400 pesos in upland arcs . Other costs include manually carrying (haulage) of a sack of milled rice from the market to the last point of the farm-to –market road to the households . Haulage can cost a hundred pesos or more per sack depending on the distance from the end of the road to household of the farmer.
Labor which includes harrowing and planting can cost more than 2,000 -2,500 pesos. The harvest from our sample rice paddy (250 sq. meters) can be two to three cavans of milled rice. A cavan of milled in these remote upland arcs can cost 1,500 to 2,000. Add the costs (investment) and compare it with the returns, it is more practical to buy rice from the market. What if the million tons of rice were CALCULATEDLY sold in the markets, the price of rice could have been lower. That is the law of supply and demand. The lower the supply of any commodity in the market, and the higher the demand for such commodity the higher the price. Rotting rice is never nice.