Tañada assails rice importation


BAGUIO CITY — Rep. Lorenzo Tañada, in a meeting with the Liberal party, here said the government’s rice importations to solve the food crisis is but a stop gap measure and evidence of sheer neglect of the country’s agriculture.

As Tañada expounded on the rice price crisis, he said the government committed a mistake of bidding high for rice, which used to be priced low in the world market.

“This government does not listen to the farmers, instead it heeds the advice of the World Bank and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), that the world rice market is stable,” Tañada said. This led to the government’s dependence on imported rice to cover its own production shortfall, he added.

Despite the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) rhetoric that we shall strive for food self-sufficiency, the government keeps importing rice, which Tañada called “gawaing tamad” (a lazy bone’s handiwork).

He added that because of the government’s emergency procurement of rice at a higher price, the world market price of rice rose as a consequence. Other countries blame us for this he said.

Importation not a solution

Tañada, who chairs the House Committee on Human Rights, repeated what farmers’ groups have been telling the government that the global rice market, despite all the liberalization, remains very thin with just about seven percent of global production being traded.

“They said the exchange rate can still be volatile,” he warned as he feared another fluctuation of the peso would have an adverse effect on importation.

The Philippines is the world’s biggest rice importer, according to Tañada. Some 2.2 million metric tons will arrive next year, he said.

Instead of enhancing the agriculture sector, the government thought of importation to solve the problem of low production, according to Tañada.

Lately, the government launched the fertilizer subsidy partnership program that intends to increase rice yield and meet the 17 million metric tons target up to December.

According to the online Bulatlat.com on June 14 quoting the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement of the Philippines) “the current rice crisis is a result of hoarding by the rice cartel, loopholes in the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988, and the government’s policy of liberalization, deregulation, and privatization, which is in line with its commitment to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade-World Trade Organization (GATT-WTO).”

This crisis, KMP said, cannot be solved neither by the government’s aggressive importation of rice nor by the extension of the CARP, according to the same Bulatlat.com story.

High prices

Tañada pointed out the government insists on four major reasons for the increase in the global price of rice and these are tight global rice supply, spiraling petroleum price hikes; climate change and unabated population growth.

He said the country’s palay production went up by only 2.88% in the first six months this year, way below the targeted 6.33%. He added the National Food Administration’s stocks have fallen below the 60-day buffer supply, to about a 12-day supply, which is only 396,000 metric tons. He attributes this to the conversion of rice lands for other purposes.

Irony

Those who produce food are the ones going hungry, according to Tañada. He said almost half of the country’s farmers and fisher folk live below the poverty line. Around 65% among corn farmers are poor, as well as 52% landless farmers; 48% coconut farmers; and 39% among rice farmers are poor, he said.

It is ironic that those who produce food are among the poorest of the poor in this country,” he said. It is also an irony that the country is an agricultural country, but it imports its own staple, he added.

Although Tañada did not want the country’s agriculture to get out of WTO, he said our farmers’ dependence on petroleum-based chemical fertilizers and pesticides is getting them hooked to imported agricultural inputs.

He said agriculture would be an election issue and the next president should look into it seriously. # Lyn V. Ramo(NorDis)

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