Feeding the Filipino


China Business Editorial Team

July 25, 2011





Experts weigh in on the issue of rice self-sufficiency


The Philippine government has set its rice self-sufficiency targets, yet the country is still the top rice importer in the world. Neither will Filipinos give up eating rice. What led us here? What will get us out of the world’s rice fields and into giving more attention to our own?

In separate interviews, the China Business team spoke with Hazel Tanchuling of Rice Watch and Action Network, National Rice Farmers’ Council Chairperson Jaime Tadeo, University of Asia and the Pacific Center for Food and Agribusiness executive director Rolando Dy, and Philippine Center for Rural Development Studies executive director Romeo Royandoyan to answer the following questions.


Why is the Philippines not self-sufficient in rice?


Rolando Dy: The main reason we’re importing rice, while Vietnam and Thailand are exporting, is because they have the conditions to grow rice. Vietnam has the Mekong river delta, which practically provides them year-long irrigation. Thailand has the Chao Phraya river, which drains central Thailand and provides irrigation. We don’t have big river systems in the Philippines. It is very expensive for us to irrigate and we don’t have adequate water to irrigate during the dry season.


Jaime Tadeo: Our problem is that we have a growing population of 90 million that consumes almost 12 million metric tons of rice a month. [The] physical land area that we plant on is limited and we’re experiencing a shortfall. We can actually offset this shortfall and become self-sufficient, but no one is doing anything about it. We also don’t have enough irrigated areas due to long years of neglect and underinvestment in agriculture. Without water, there will be no crops. The government also prioritized importation over [local] production.


Romeo Royandoyan: We used to be self-sufficient, but government policy was not consistent. First they gave all-out support to the rice industry. Suddenly, they removed this subsidy.


Should rice self-sufficiency be a goal at all?

RD: Our urban elite is so enamored with being selfsufficient in rice. The key is not self-sufficiency. The key is income security—that you put money in the hands of small fisher folk, invest in irrigation, marketing support, etc. It’s a mindset we have to change.
Let’s focus on food security—gaining access to food from any place at anytime. Self-sufficiency is getting all my rice requirements resourced locally. We want to be self-sufficient but at what cost? We should aim for food security because aiming for self-sufficiency is costly and it ignores the needs of other deserving farmers and fisher folk.

RR: It’s hard for a country to be food insecure. It’s imperative that we’re self-sufficient in rice.

Why is the government obsessed with this goal?

RD: It’s part of the psyche that if the Secretary of Agriculture doesn’t achieve sufficiency in rice, [he or she] is a failure. They don’t say that when you increase farm incomes over so many years, that’s the measure of your success.

JT: Food security is national security.






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