A program for Filipino rice farmers, consumers

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.