Many have long wondered why we cannot meet the rice needs of our own people, why we have to import from Vietnam and Thailand hundreds of thousands of metric tons a year.
The answer is that it costs an average of P12 to produce a kilo of palay in the Philippines; it only costs half that much, P6, in Vietnam. The big difference is largely due to mechanization, which has drastically reduced labor costs in Vietnam and Thailand.
Sen. Cynthia Villar, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, told a forum of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry last Friday that another reason for low Philippine rice production is the continuing reliance of Filipino farmers on low-yielding traditional rice varieties.
Our scientists in the Philippine Rice Research Institute have developed new rice varieties that are resistant to diseases, to drought, and to flooding, and produce greater harvests, but their findings have not reached down to the level of most Filipino farmers.
Some years ago, Secretary of Agriculture Emmanuel Pinol said his department’s efforts to modernize Philippine agriculture were held back by inadequate government funding.
Rice is at the center of life among Filipinos. When prices started shooting up last year, with inflation reaching 6.7 percent in September, the government stopped the rise in market prices by ensuring adequate supplies of rice at low prices through the Rice Tariffication Law. Former import restrictions were abolished and all importations, mostly from Vietnam and Thailand, were allowed as long as they paid proper tariffs.
Unfortunately, however, while that law ensured an adequate supply of imported rice for consumers, it was at the expense of local farmers.
In the remaining years of the Duterte administration, we urge that the Philippine rice production be given the full support it needs – widespread distribution of high-yielding rice varieties to our farmers, increased mechanization to bring down labor costs, wider use of irrigation to reduce dependence on rain water, and organizing the farmers and giving them the needed financial support and helping them in their marketing.
Senator Villar can play a big role in this total effort by getting the Senate to enact more laws to provide more funding for agriculture. The administration itself should see that while “Build, Build, Build” will push the overall national economic development program, a “Plant, Plant, Plant” program focused on rice will benefit Filipino farmers and the masses of rice-eating Filipinos.