Glaring contradictions in rice importation


By Ernesto Ordoñez

Philippine Daily Inquirer

11 March 2010



MANILA, Philippines—There appears to be a considerable difference between the amount of rice that the country will not be able to harvest this year because of the El Niño weather phenomenon and the volume that the government plans to import to cover the shortfall.

Last March 4, Rice Watch’s Jessica Canto stated that palay production in the first six months of this year is expected to decline by only 1.7 percent compared to same period last year.

She thus asked: “Why does a 1.7-percent decline in palay production necessitate a 50-percent increase in rice imports?”

We did further research on this and got the actual levels referred to by these percentages.

The announced 3 million metric ton rice imports this year is approximately 700,000 tons more than last year’s 2.3 million tons.

On the production side, the DA’s Bureau of Agriculture Statistics estimated that total production would decline to 7.25 million metric tons in the first six months this year from 7.38 million metric tons in the same period last year.

In terms of rice, this would mean a shortfall of only 80,600 metric tons.

Centro Saka Executive Director Omy Royondoyan asked, “Why import almost 10 times the volume of rice that is actually needed by our people?”

Worst fears

Many leaders of the National Rice Farmers Council headed by Jaime Tadeo are afraid that their worst fears might be realized.

Because it is election season, they believe that this excess importation is an opportunity to make extra money for a rice import scam with its corresponding kickbacks, overpricing and substandard rice.

In addition, because there will be too much rice and it would be a great embarrassment to the government if it does not dispose of this rice, the government will be forced to sell at very low prices to get rid of the excess supply.

This means prices of rice will go down, thus further decreasing the already very low incomes of rice farmers who will be forced to sell at these depressed prices.

This will be ironic.

Instead of the government helping create jobs for the farmers, it will effectively give these jobs to foreign farmers who will supply us with too much rice.

Furthermore, the few existing jobs the farmers have will yield even lower incomes because the rice prices will dive as a result of too many rice imports.

Another view

Rice Watch has taken a position that importing 3 million tons of rice this year is definitely wrong. But there may be another view.

If there is a view that can justify this importation, Rice Watch has not heard of it. This is because there is no mechanism for a systematic and constant dialogue between Rice Watch and the Department of Agriculture, which is making this decision.

As long as there is no such mechanism, contradictions in rice importation and other key agricultural matters will continue to persist.

In the common agenda of the Alyansa Agrikultura, it states: “Implement a masterplan for each agricultural sub-sectors with small farmer and fisher participation for that specific sector backed by full government support.”

This particular recommendation has not been followed in the rice sub-sector. Furthermore, there is no organizational body that has been created with government-private sector participation that will oversee and guide the implementation of a rice masterplan.

Reinventing the wheel

Why reinvent the wheel? Today, there is a Corn Board composed of government and private sector representatives who work jointly on implementing the government’s corn program.

Contradictions in the corn sector, such as the one identified here for the rice sector, are discussed in a scheduled and programmed basis by the Corn Board.

Since rice is a key strategic commodity, the DA should immediately organize a Rice Board similar to the Corn Board.

All rice major stakeholders, including but not limited to farmers, seed growers, input providers, traders, retailers, and government agencies such as the DA and the National Food Authority, should be included in this board.

Newly appointed Agriculture Secretary Bernie Fondevilla can leave behind the important legacy of creating this Rice Board in his very first month in office.
This board can immediately address the rice importation contradiction identified here.

It can also start the formulation of a rice masterplan aimed at rice self-sufficiency that will provide our rice farmers an opportunity for better income, our consumers a guarantee of food security, and our nation a hope for the true agricultural development our nation needs so badly today.

(The author is chair of Agriwatch and former undersecretary for Agriculture, and Trade and Industry. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail or telefax (02) 8522112)













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