Helping Filipino Farmers |

Last February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agriculture Service forecast Philippine rice imports to reach up to 2.9 million metric tons this year.

Our rice production simply cannot catch up with demand. The USDA forecasts our milled rice production at 12.4 million tonnes this year, compared to consumption of 14.95 million tonnes.

Last year, rice imports from the Philippines reached 2.98 million metric tons.

While palay production increased last year, the Federation of Free Farmers revealed that only half of the extra harvest came from an expansion in harvested area and only half was due to improved yield. Production per hectare, he said, increased by only 1.6% in 2021.

The Philippines will remain one of the main rice importers in the world, alongside China and Bangladesh.

Achieving self-sufficiency in rice remains an elusive dream.

Our country was self-sufficient in rice from 1975 to 1976. In fact, we even exported rice to our neighboring Asian countries like Indonesia, China and Myanmar from 1977 to 1978.

A number of factors, including rapid population growth and limited land resources, have made the Philippines a net importer of rice. And we haven’t managed to get out of this deep hole yet.

Then came the Rice Pricing Act which came into force in early 2019. It not only removed the power of the National Food Authority (NFA) to import and distribute cheaper rice, but also liberalized the import of rice into the country.

The RTL provided for the creation of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund or RCEF, which is financed mainly by duties paid on imports. It was supposed to inject around 10 billion pesos a year for the rice sector to be used for the purchase of agricultural machinery and equipment, the development, propagation and promotion of rice, and the expansion of rice services. credit and extension for rice.

Rice tariffs are currently set at 35% on all rice imports from ASEAN countries and 40% on those from non-ASEAN countries. But even with these seemingly prohibitive rates, rice imports are still cheaper than locally produced rice.

Consumers benefit from cheaper rice because the price of rice imports drives down domestic rice prices.

But what about the 2.4 million farmers and palace workers?

We are therefore once again faced with a choice between short-term food security and self-sufficiency in rice. Or is it really one or the other? Can’t we have both?

Our government already knows how to make our palace farmers competitive.

Low cost irrigation, access to fertilizers and high yielding varieties, roads from farm to market, post-harvest facilities, capacity training, access to low cost credit, higher budget for agriculture. Our government farm managers already know what to do. Plans have been made and implemented year after year, but nothing seems to be working.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), in 2018, farmers and fishermen had the highest incidence of poverty among the basic sectors, at 31.6 and 26.2 percent, respectively.

The number of poor farmers in 2018 fell from 3.7 million in 2015 to 2.4 million. Basically, Filipinos living and working in the countryside remained poorer than those in urban areas.

Meanwhile, according to the IBON Foundation, the annual growth of the agricultural sector averaged only 2.1% from 2017 to 2019 and its share in the economy hit its lowest level in Philippine history at 7.8% of GDP in 2019. The sector even suffered 1.4 million jobs. losses from 2017 to 2019, he added.

From 2017 to 2020, the sector experienced an average annual growth of only 1.6%, just over half of the average annual growth of 2.9% from 2001 to 2016. From 2017 to 2020, its average contribution annual GDP was 9.8 percent, he noted.

The IBON also revealed that the rice import dependency rate increased from 5% in 2016 to 20.2% in 2019 as a result of the Rice Liberalization Act. The import dependency ratio also increased significantly over the same period for garlic (from 89.1 to 92.2 percent), potato (from 14.8 to 18 ,1 percent), beef (32.7 to 40.3 percent), tuna (3.7 to 17 percent), pork (10.6 to 18.1 percent). 12.9 percent) and galunggong (0.4 to 21.9 percent).

He added that the country also had an average annual agricultural trade deficit of $7.7 billion between 2018 and 2020, the largest three-year deficit in four decades.

He said the incidence of poverty among farmers (31.6%) and fishermen (26.2%) is well above the national average of 16.7%. From 2017 to 2020, an average of 328,000 agricultural jobs were long, which is the worst among the last six administrations.

No wonder no one wants to become a small-scale farmer in the Philippines.

In Vietnam, the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector accounted for 12.36% of GDP, down from 14.85% in 2010 and a peak of 19.57% in 2011. to GDP was however due to the growing importance of the industry and service sectors.

Vietnam transformed from a net importer to a net exporter of agricultural products after its trade liberalization and agricultural reforms in the 1980s. It has become a major producer and exporter of many commodities, including rice. In 2021, its rice production reached 43.86 million tonnes, up 1.1 million tonnes from the previous year.

According to the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture, although the cultivated area decreased by about 39,700 hectares, the yield increased by nearly 1.9 quintals per hectare compared to 2020 to fully meet domestic consumption demand, for use as animal feed and for export.

In the first four months of last year, the Philippines bought 84% of its rice imports from Vietnam.

Since 1990, our country has been home to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). Our Philippine Rice Research Institute has collaborated with IRRI for most of its rice research and training projects in the Philippines.

Vietnam, which contributes more than 6% of the world’s rice production, thanked IRRI for helping to increase the productivity and profitability of Vietnamese farmers.

Why are our farmers not benefiting from the reception of IRRI in the country? What did we do wrong?

New President Bongbong Marcos can create a lasting legacy by achieving something his predecessors haven’t done in decades: self-sufficiency in rice. But he should start by appointing someone in the Department of Agriculture who can help make that happen.

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