We needed the Rice Tariffication Law, RA 11203, to stop the fast-rising prices in 2018. We remember how inflation hit 5.7 percent in July that year, 6.4 percent in August, and 6.7 percent in September. RA 11203 removed the old quantitative restrictions on rice importations and imposed tariffs instead. With no limits on rice imports, cheap rice from Vietnam and Thailand started arriving and rice being the the key element in Filipinos’ market purchasing, the inflation rate started going down.
The huge importation of cheap rice did indeed stop the rising market prices last year, but at great cost to Philippine agriculture, the rice industry in particular. For with cheap imported rice in great abundance in the market, Filipino rice famers saw prices for their own harvests plummeting.
Philippine agriculture has not received much attention in many years. The Rice Tariffication Law was only one of the developments in the downward trend in Philippine agriculture, especially rice production.
One result of this policy been the steady fall in the country’s agricultural labor force. In the last seven years, a study by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said, this agricultural labor force has sunk by 25 percent. From 12.24 million workers in 2010, the number of farm workers fell to 9.07 million in 2017, according to the NEDA study. Of the 17 regions of the country, 15 reported falls in agricultural employment, the biggest drops being in the Ilocos Region, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Bicol, and Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.
Agriculture is today the country’s weakest economic link, according to Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, growing only 1.1 percent in the last ten years. The biggest reasons for this are high production costs, low farmgate prices, limited access to credit, poor irrigation system, and conversion of agricultural land to commercial projects.
We must not allow this fall in Philippine agriculture to continue. With our lands and our rains and other natural resources, agriculture should have a bigger role in national economic growth. And if only for the fact that we are a rice-eating people, rice production must be given all the assistance that it can get.
Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte has proposed a House measure to allow the government to tap rice tariff collections in excess of P10 billion for the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) and set up as an emergency fund to help farmers. He proposed that the excess amount go to a cash transfer system similar to the cash subsidies being given to poor households by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
President Duterte last Sunday apologized to farmers for the low prices of palay and said he was ready to meet with them to discuss their concerns. These may well include the need for increased mechanization, more irrigation facilities, greater assistance through easy loans and marketing — measures that will help Filipino rice farmers be as productive as their fellow rice farmers in Vietnam and Thailand.