Gov't challenged to produce low-priced rice for poor

By Amy R. Remo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:09:00 04/22/2008



http://newsinfo. inquirer. net/inquirerhead lines/nation/ view/20080422- 131905/Govt- challenged- to-produce- low-priced- rice-for- poor


MANILA, Philippines—A coalition of farmers and non-government organizations Monday challenged the government and international agencies to come up with low-priced rice that the poor can afford.


Rice Watch and Action Network (R1) issued the statement as experts from the World Bank, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Department of Budget and Management asserted that the Philippines could trust the global market to feed its people instead of pursuing self-sufficiency.


"While the government's policy pronouncements carry the rhetoric of achieving 100-percent rice self-sufficiency, the DBM declared the country has a comparative disadvantage in rice growing, and rice self-sufficiency is both costly and illusory," said R1 lead convenor Jessica Reyes-Cantos.


R1 said the government's reliance on imported rice to provide people with rice at P18.25 a kilo would drain the country's resources but would not be able to bring down prices of commercial rice.


"Officials from the budget department are eating their own words when they declared the costly disadvantage of improving local rice production to feed the people," Cantos said.


Forced to import


She added that the government was forced to import more than 2 million metric tons even at skyrocketing prices because of the political implication of the shortage of low-priced rice.


The WB and IRRI have asserted that the world rice market can be trusted, but IRRI is now singing a different tune, seeking to "improve agronomic practices, enhance the ability to effectively utilize rice varieties and promote rice breeding," Cantos said.


"The government chose to listen to these so-called experts and look where they have led us to—the long lines for cheap NFA (National Food Authority) rice, starkly telling us the huge problem we have to face as global prices are not likely to stabilize and the critical lean months are drawing to a close," she said.


Global prices have grown by leaps and bounds hitting the $1,000 a ton mark, barely four months from the beginning of this year, when rice price was only at $430 a ton.


Self-sufficiency battle cry


According to Cantos, the government chose to relax rather than fight hard for its rice self-sufficiency battle cry.


She said the WB, IRRI and even the Philippine Rice Research Institute prescribed against self-sufficiency due to the country's geographic conditions that supposedly made importing rice cheaper than investing in domestic production.


R1 further noted that less than 10 percent of the total rice produced globally was being traded on the world market.


It said only six country-producers were exporting some 73 to 85 percent of the globally traded rice, but as many as 35 countries, including the Philippines, were pitting against each other to get a portion of the cereal through importation.



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