April 18, 2016
Manila, Philippines—Multisectoral alliance Bantay Bigas (Rice Monitor) expressed concern over the possibility of using El Niño as an excuse for rampant, arbitrary and unplanned rice importation.
“The effects of El Niño to our agriculture and food security cannot be discounted. We were definitely not prepared for this calamity. However, the government must not use it as a justification for rampant importation of rice,” said Cathy Estavillo, spokesperson of Bantay Bigas.
The drought that has been devastating the country since last year has resulted to the loss of 383,743 metric tons in agricultural production amounting to an estimated value of P5.53 billion according to the Department of Agriculture. From February to March this year, some 252,176 hectares of agricultural land have been affected by the El Niño. Data from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council showed that a total of 6 provinces, 12 cities, 17 municipalities, and 2 barangays has been declared under a state of calamity since 2015.
“As early as last year, the threat of this dry spell has been clear but the government just shrugged it off. The effects are now blowing up in our faces,” added Estavillo.
The alliance emphasized that with or without El Niño, the country has been in chronic rice crisis because of government’s neoliberal policies such as liberalization of agriculture and rice importation.
“We will have many more dry spells and other calamities that would wreak havoc to our rice production but no amount of imported rice can alleviate its effect,” Estavillo stressed.
The alliance also criticized The National Food Authority regarding the 20, 000 MT of imported rice that has gone past its maximum time of six months of storage. The agency earlier opened the said stock for auction but has recently announced that it has suspended the auction saying it would be unfair to the farmers to unload stocks of rice during the harvest season.
“What is truly unfair to our rice farmers is that they are the ones who work hard to produce rice but they are starving because they cannot afford it. This clearly reflects the miserable state of our local rice industry. We can have stocks and stocks of rice but the problem lies in the accessibility and affordability of rice to majority of Filipinos. As long as our farmers are landless, agriculture remains backward and implementation of neoliberal policies continue, our farmers cannot enjoy the fruits of their labor, “ Estavillo ended.###