Experts concur with DA chief:
Rice self-sufficiency in 3 years



Jennifer A. Ng / Reporter

Business Mirror

4 July 2010

REMOVING rice imports in three years is possible, assuming that the Aquino administration would be able to put in place the right policy measures and educate the public on healthy eating, experts said over the weekend.


Pablito M. Villegas, a member of the Organic Producers and Trade Association and convenor of the Inter-Continental Network of Organic Farmers Organizations, said among the key measures that can be instituted by the Department of Agriculture is to follow the Organic Act and go into organic-conversion farming.


Experts made their statements in reaction to the pronouncement by new Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala that he sees zero rice imports by 2013 in an exclusive story published by the BusinessMirror on June 30.


“The Bureau of Soils and Water Management [BSWM] did a study before, using a 20-hectare module. One of the agency’s findings is that production cost [of palay] could be reduced by 15 to 20 percent, and a farmer can increase his yield, at the same time, if he goes into organic farming,” said Villegas in an interview over the weekend.


Aside from conversion to organic farming, Villegas cited the need for the government to educate the public about the health benefits of eating brown rice and other indigenous crops such as cassava and sweet potato.


“The consumption of brown rice should be encouraged, especially among children. The consumption of root crops that are grown in the Philippines should also be promoted,” he said.

Earlier, the Asia Rice Foundation (ARF) noted that brown rice is a rich source of dietary fiber and  is a healthier alternative for people suffering from diabetes, obesity and heart-related ailments. Studies also show that brown rice has both preventive and curative properties for cancer.


Aside from its health benefits, former ARF chairman Emil Q. Javier said in a paper written in 2004 that eating brown rice has two economic benefits. Javier said forgoing polishing and whitening palay reduces the power demands of milling by as much as 65 percent.


With the bran and the nutrient-rich embryo intact and with fewer broken grains, he noted that whole-grain milling recovery is as much as 10 percent higher than for white rice.


Rice Watch Action Network (R1) lead convenor Jessica Reyes-Cantos, for her part, said adequate support in the form of irrigation and extension service should be provided to farmers.

“Achieving rice self-sufficiency in three years is possible provided the necessary support is in place. Also, production is just one aspect of self-sufficiency. There is also the consumption part.

You need to change the mindset of consumers when it comes to rice consumption,” said Cantos in a telephone interview.


One expert, however, cautioned against focusing solely on propping up rice production.
Dr. Rolando Dy, executive director of the Center for Food and Agribusiness at the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P), said that while rice self-sufficiency is a good target, the government should push for “inclusive poverty-reduction strategies” in the countryside.


“Achieving rice self-sufficiency in three years is an uphill climb. For one, you have climate change. Also, farmers have to contend with the deterioration of irrigation systems. Focusing on rice self-sufficiency could drain the Department of Agriculture’s resources to the detriment of other farm subsectors,” said Dy in a telephone interview.


The UA&P economist said the government should aim for “some level of farming household sufficiency” and, at the same time, promote the cultivation of crops that are suitable to small farmers.


“One example is bananas. You do not just directly consume bananas; you can also process it into ketchup or banana chips which you can export to other markets. The government should aim for attracting more investments in agro-processing centers in the countryside,” he said.


This way, he said, more jobs could be created and the 45-percent rural poverty incidence could be reduced.











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