March 23, 2012
"Instead of importing rice to fill up the country's buffer stock, government should buy palay from Filipino farmers." Thus reacted rice watchdog Bantay Bigas on National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Lito Banayo's announcement last Tuesday that the agency will be importing 120,000 MT of rice from Thailand, Vietnam, and possibly Cambodia, to fill up the shortfall in the country's rice requirement of 500,000 MT.
The 500,000 MT in rice imports this year is a reduction in imports compared to the 870,000 MT last year. According to Banayo, this is in line with the government's thrust towards rice self-sufficiency by 2012.
But Bantay Bigas Spokesperson Lita Mariano said that importing and stocking rice, which is bound to rot in warehouses, is not the way to rice self-sufficiency. "Unlike rice, palay can be stored up to one year," Mariano added.
"Reduced rice importation is only secondary to improving farmers' capacity to produce through sufficient support services such as irrigation and post-harvest facilities," Mariano said.
According to the National Irrigation Administration, as of 2009, only 1.5 million out of 3.01 million irrigable hectares planted to rice are currently irrigated. For the lack of post-harvest facilities, 36% of palay dried along roads are put to waste, the milling recovery rate is only at 55-65%, farmers are at the mercy of loan sharks and burdened with expensive fertilizers.
Mariano also lamented that the NFA's plan to bid out 380,000 MT of rice equally to private traders and farmers' cooperatives allows room for price manipulation and subsequently, increases in rice prices.
"Wala na ngang pagtaas sa sahod, tataas pa ang presyo ng bigas (It is difficult to bear rice price increases when there are no increases in wages)," Mariano said. Currently there are millions of workers receiving wages way below the P1,008 estimated amount needed for af family of six to live decently (IBON, 2012).
The rice watchdog urges government to fulfill the NFA mandate of purchasing at least 5% of the country's total palay production target. Late last year, the group proposed that government reallocate part of its interest payment on debt servicing schedule to the Department of Agriculture's national rice program.
"Government must also prove its sincerity with regard to its thrust for food self-sufficiency by acting on rampant land use conversions and increasing foreign land deals which continue to eat up the country's agricultural lands," ended Mariano.