Saturday, October 01, 2011

Rice sufficiency

IN the wake of two successive strong typhoons “Pedring” and “Quiel” that hit Central Luzon, the Department of Agriculture gave an assurance that rice in these areas will last until December this year. Reportedly only about 350,000 metric tons of palay were damage during the typhoons, which accounts for only about half of the 800,000 MT surplus of the 3 million MT of palay that this region’s farmers produce annually.

In a press conference of late, Agriculture Undersecretary Joel Rodinas was quoted saying, “Our food requirements for this year are fully secure even with the typhoons and floods. We have an assurance from the NFA (National Food Authority) until next (palay) harvest that we are fully secured.” He noted that the NFA has presently a stock of 200,000 metric tons of rice. NFA administrator Angelito Banayo confirmed this and disclosed that procurement of rice is still on-going in areas not affected by typhoon particularly in Panay island and Central Mindanao.

Without sounding politically bias, this development at the agriculture department seems to pursue a change of paradigm. In past administrations, the commonly heard strategies, or at least in news stories, were about “rice shortages,” “importations” and, worse, tons of rice rotting in NFA warehouses. Those were the times when even churches would be engaged by Malacañang to participate in a program called “Bigasan ng Bayan” which was about trading to the poor cheap but low quality rice that was imported from Vietnam or some other neighboring Asian countries.
Strangely enough, the issue then was not about rice importations despite the thriving of rice cartels; perhaps because the country has been numbed to a resignation that it is not capable of self-sufficiency especially in terms of rice production.

Which was why, perhaps, there were raised eyebrows when Department of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala expressed optimism that the Philippines will be rice self-sufficient in 2013—despite a low government budget for rice program of only P5.217 billion in 2011, which is definitely lower than the condom program of Senator Pia Cayetano who is emotionally hard-pushing for a P13.7 billion budget for the implementation of the Reproductive Health Bill in 2012.

Ground data appear to be sustaining the Alcala optimism as the Department of Agriculture seem on track with a rice sufficiency program dubbed as “Food Staples Self-sufficiency Roadmap (FSSR) that consists of three main strategies: increase and sustain production of grains, improve farm mechanization and reduce postharvest losses, and manage consumption. Nobody really can tell if at the end of the day this scheme will succeed or not. But what really matters for now is the idea that maybe this country which used to be listed as one of the major rice importers in the world can be self-sufficient in rice after all.

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