Bantay Bigas to Malacañang: Rice importation is like prescribing the wrong medicine

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“If the problem is the low palay production of rice farmers, why not address the issues causing the problem? Will importation increase the country’s local produce? We would like to remind the government that prescribing the wrong medicine will not cure the disease,” said Cathy Estavillo, Bantay Bigas spokesperson.

The group issued the statement in response to Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco’s statements during the media briefing yesterday on resolving the alleged rice shortage.

“The country’s food insecurity is rooted in the widespread landlessness of farmers and on the continuing monopoly control of hacienderos, compradors and foreign corporations in vast landholdings. Our agricultural lands are used for export of raw materials based on the demands of foreign companies. Thus, due to the lack of a genuine agrarian reform program catering to the needs of the farmers and the Filipino people, poverty and hunger becomes prevalent, worsened by the government’s importation policy especially rice and other agricultural products,” Estavillo said.

The group added that the backward agriculture and the government’s negligence to provide appropriate and sufficient support services and subsidies to agriculture make agricultural production even more difficult.

“The country lags behind our neighboring countries in terms of farm mechanization and the cost of production is almost double compared to Vietnam,” Estavillo said.

Meanwhile, the National Federation of Peasant Women (Amihan) chair Zen Soriano said, “The government’s support is almost insignificant yet it implements anti-farmer policies that further aggravate the farmers’ conditions.”

“Rice lands decreased from 4.75 million hectares in 2013 to 4.66 million hectares in 2015 due to continuing land-use conversions and plantation expansions. Moreover, the Duterte government is eyeing 256, 360 hectares expansion for sugarcane, 150,000 hectares for cacao, 116, 000 hectares for rubber, 87, 000 hectares for coffee and 1 million hectares for oil palm. Not to mention those “Build, Build, Build” projects which would further displace farmers from their communities,” Soriano added.

“The government admits that private traders practice rice hoarding. Sec. Evasco said it is a criminal offense. And yet, no one is held accountable. They should have resolved this matter first to immediately ease the impact of rice price hike on the consumers,” Estavillo said.

Estavillo also debunked Cabinet Secretary Evasco’s claim that “since time immemorial, the Filipino farmers have never produced rice enough to feed the Filipino people”.

The group noted that according to the National Statistical and Coordination Board (NCSB), “in the ‘70s and ‘80s and as late as 1992, we were self-sufficient in rice. From 1993 to 2011, we depended on rice importation to secure our food needs.”

Estavillo added that since the country’s membership to the World Trade Organization, the country became a net importer of agricultural products. In just five years of membership, the country registered a $670 million trade deficit. The country continues to import rice regardless of the country’s production and NFA’s local procurement, sometimes, even going beyond the minimum access volume (MAV).

Bantay Bigas and Amihan reiterated its call to address the shortage of NFA rice and ensure the country’s food security through increased local palay procurement at higher purchasing price. They also called for a free land distribution and provision of support services to boost rice production. ###

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