By Genalyn Kabiling
The Philippines is unlikely to become self-sufficient in rice amid concerns the rice farming lands have been shrinking, President Duterte said on Monday.
This is contrary to what Agriculture officials had earlier claimed that the country could be rice self-sufficient by 2020. The country is reportedly 96 percent rice sufficient so far.
Despite this, the public was asked not to panic over the country’s rice situation as the overall supply remains “more than sufficient.”
Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra assured that there was no rice shortage in the country despite the low inventory of the National Food Authority (NFA). “There’s no rice shortage. Our overall supply is more than enough,” he added.
The President had said that the rich people have converted vast tracts of lands to produce cash crops, instead of food crops that could meet the nation’s rice requirements.
“Of course, we cannot be self-sufficient, why? Sa rice? Kasi ang mga lupa nating magaganda, nakuha na sa mga taong may pera for the cash – cash crop, hindi na food crop [Because our arable lands have been taken by the rich for cash crop, not food crop],”Duterte said during his visit to Sultan Kudarat.
“So imposible na sabihin mo na magkaroon [It is impossible to have] until you learn how to till the mountains, which I am willing to give to you. Taniman mo na lang ng coconut ‘yan, rubber or palm oil, wala na talaga kayong problema [Just plant coconut, rubber or palm oil, you won’t have any problem] It’s just a matter of funding the seedlings and the – mga abono [fertilizer],” he added.
To help ensure food security, the President has reaffirmed his commitment to pursue genuine land reform and vowed to extend support services to farmers, including credit access from the Land Bank of the Philippines, to enhance production.
Duterte has also directed concerned government agencies to hasten the distribution of lands to agrarian reform beneficiaries.
“Yung lahat ng bukid diyan nawalang may-ari, ibigay na natin [Those fields that have no owners, let’s give them away],” he said. “Why keep on holding – hanging onto a property which does not serve the people?” he added.
At present, the Philippines continues to import rice despite goals to attain self-sufficiency. The NFA had earlier announced plans to import 250,000 metric tons of rice to boost the local supply.
Stable rice supply
Guevarra found no reason to adjust the country’s rice importation schedule given the stable supply. “Wala naman pong shortage kaya same schedule lang pong importation [There is no shortage so the same importation schedule will remain],” he said.
Gueverra issued the statement following reports that the NFA has supposedly ran out of rice reserve. No subsidized rice was reportedly being sold in some markets in Luzon.
Meantime, the NFA Council has already authorized the importation of 250,000 metric tons of rice to increase the agency stock. The rice imports are expected to be delivered this May.
Assistant Secretary Jonas Soriano of the Office of the Cabinet Secretary said rice importation would be conducted via open tender scheme with the private sector.
Soriano also dispelled concerns that NFA’s low stock might result in the increase in the prices of commercial stocks.
“NFA rice only makes up 4 percent of the distribution of all the rice in the Philippines. So hindi dapat maapektuhan ang supply ng rice. Hindi rin dapat maapektuhan ng presyong bigas [so the rice supply and rice price should not be affected],” he said in a phone interview with Palace reporters.
“The rice price will not rise unless you control nationwide 10 to 15 percent of the rice distribution of that particular rice. So kapag tumataas ang presyo, at bine-blame ang kawalan ng NFA rice ay kalokohan yun [So if the price of rice goes up, and this is blamed on NFA rice shortage, that’s nonsense]” he added.
As the government moves to boost rice supply, Soriano said the NFA would also undergo a special audit to address bottlenecks in its procurement and distribution of rice. The audit to be conducted by the Commission on Audit (COA) aims to turn the NFA into a “cost effective and operationally efficient” agency.
Meanwhile, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) distributed certificates of land ownership award (CLOAs) covering 4,266 hectares to 1,680 beneficiaries in Sultan Kudarat on Monday.
DAR Secretary John Castriciones said of the 1,680 agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs), 1,396 are Maguindanaons, 227 are from the Manobo tribe, and 57 are Ilocanos and Ilonggos.
He said the department will not stop after land distribution. “We will put into action a convergence strategy to provide support services to our farmers.”
Among the programs lined up for implementation are the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority scholarships for children of ARBs, Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, provision of crop insurance, credit assistance from Land Bank of the Philippines and from other financial institutions.
A Manobo farmer, Tosida Ibal, turned emotional after receiving his CLOA.
“Growing up, there were days when there was no food for us to eat until the DAR told us to apply for land. The DAR’s assistance is a blessing from the Almighty. Now the land I till is mine,” Ibal said.
A 75-year-old Maguindanaon woman farmer Linang Lagasi was also teary-eyed when she received her CLOA.
“I now have something to leave my children with when I die. I hope the government will also provide us with support services to cope with farming our land,” she said. (With a report from Ellalyn de Vera Ruiz)