Rise up for rice

Published September 1, 2018, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat


Tonyo Cruz
Tonyo Cruz

Why are rice prices going up? And why are our rice farmers still mostly poor and destitute, even as rice prices escalate to levels we never imagined before?

There are other questions in the mind of consumers nationwide, especially in Zamboanga where rice prices have gone up to around P70 per kilo.

Would the Duterte regime’s plans for “tarrification,” importation, and legalization of smugglers actually help? Is this “simply” a problem of high demand and low supply?

Rice supply and pricing are actually very complicated.

Despite the high and rising prices of rice that we see, rice farmers actually don’t earn a lot. They only get a pittance from selling the palay to the National Food Authority and the private traders who could set low palay prices.

Today, the NFA price of palay remains at P17 per kilo, a price set way back in 2009. And the NFA under Duterte only bought 28,344 metric tons or about 0.001% of the 19.2 million metric tons total production last year. Private traders have swooped down on rice farmers like the vultures they really are, and have offered a measly price of P12 per kilo.

These conditions give rise and perpetuate the reign of greed by rice traders who now have a commanding monopoly on palay supply. These traders, a negligent Duterte government, and big landlords who still own farm lands are the ugly faces of feudalism that keep farmers poor even as they gouge consumers with high and rising prices.

There’s a new term being bandied about in Congress and Malacañang with fantastic claims about it being the solution to low supply and high demand — “tarrification.”

“Tarrification” is nothing more than rice import liberalization. It means that the government would abandon local farmers in favor of importation.

Rice importation is nothing new. The Philippines has been forced to import rice under the terms of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade Agreement on Agriculture — 59,700 metric tons in 1995 to 1999, 119,460 MT in 2000-2004, 238,940 MT in 2004-2005, 350,000 MT in 2005-2012, 805,000 MT in 2012-2017.

But despite the growing rice importation, rice prices continue to go up. For aside from the hocus-pocus by the local rice cartel and rice smugglers (sometimes we can’t distinguish them because they act like a syndicate), global rice prices are nearly always higher than domestic rice prices.

According to Ibon Foundation, which has looked into the claims of government regarding importation and tarriffication, not only would farmers and consumers not benefit from these flawed policies. We would suffer as consumers, and these would kill the rice producing sectors in the rural areas.

Fact is, the total amount of rice being traded in the world market represents only 6 percent of the world’s total rice production. The exporting countries of course prioritize their own people, before sending their surplus for sale to the world market. In the corrupt minds of the best and brightest in the Duterte regime, we would be better off being a captive and dependent market to the volatile world market supply and prices.

The Duterte regime itself is liable for the high and rising prices of rice. The Duterte tax plan called TRAIN caused a rise in prices of diesel which is used in almost the entire process of turning the palay into rice, transportation, and distribution.

The latest outrage coming from the government came in the form of a suggestion by the agriculture secretary about legalizing rice smuggling. The cruel and brutal regime obviously refuses to run after, arrest, and prosecute these bloodsuckers; it wants to legalize them all.

Not a few have castigated activists for employing terms such as feudalism, bureaucrat capitalism, and imperialism in diagnosing the social cancer in the country. But we don’t have to look farther than the national staple to see that these concepts are actually the best ways to understand and offer solutions to the rice problem.

At the source, specifically palay producing farms, feudalism continue to oppress farmers through high rent and usury. Landlords who often turn traders or connive with them are able to demand “give-away” prices for farmers’ produce. The result: continued destitution of farmers.

We have not been totally independent in determining our agriculture policy, no thanks to unfair and onerous agreements such GATT-AOA and even bilateral treaties that make us import-dependent and export-oriented. “Globalization” has led our agricultural country to import rice, and the world’s second biggest archipelago to import fish.

Then, there are the bureaucrat capitalists who hail from the landlord class or are beholden to them, and who worship foreign interests at the expense of our own. With more than two decades of “globalization” schemes resulting only in high prices, cartelization, artificial shortages, massive smuggling, and food insecurity, the bureaucrat capitalists wish to double down with tarrification and importation.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and the Amihan National Alliance of Peasant Women prescribe a solution to this trinity of ills — huge doses of nationalism and democracy in the agriculture sector. That means the government should end its neglect of farmers: implement land reform to disempower landlords and the rice cartel; raise the procurement price of palay from P17 to P20; promote local rice production to serve the domestic market; arrest and disband the rice smuggling syndicate; and end the growing dependence on rice importation by abrogating the Philippines’ accession to the GATT-AOA.

Sounds complicated? Of course, it is. Because the problem is made complicated by those who profit from the crisis. The “bukbok” rice the agriculture chief wishes to eat is perhaps the lightest of our problems.

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