The article “Duterte: I have final say on rice imports” (News, 4/11/17) reported that the President fired Agriculture Undersecretary Maia Chiara Valdez who approved the order to extend rice importation without the authority to do such thing.
Mr. Duterte’s firm action signals that he is serious in promoting domestic rice production instead of relying on importation which only benefits businessmen.
For an agricultural country like the Philippines, the need to import rice underscores a fundamental problem—a rice crisis fueled by various factors such as landlessness, high cost of inputs, lack of support services, land-use conversion, and liberalization of the agriculture sector.
Mr. Duterte should not only sack corrupt officials; he should also implement a genuine Rice Self-Sufficiency Program (RSSP) so that there would be no need to import rice from other countries. In order to implement a genuine RSSP, the Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes (PNFSP) recommends that the President veer away from policies that promote the use of petrochemical farm inputs and high-yielding seed varieties, such as his earlier plan to revive Ferdinand Marcos’ Masagana 99 does.
Instead, the government must implement pro-farmer policies such as sustainable agriculture that eliminates dependence on expensive chemical pesticides and fertilizers that destroy the soil’s fertility. And appropriate technology for pre- and post-harvest facilities must be made accessible to the rural communities in order to improve and increase the country’s total rice production.
Also, the conversion of agricultural lands into commercial uses must be immediately stopped. PNFSP urges the President to immediately sign an executive order imposing a two-year moratorium on land-use conversion.
In addition, the Quantitative Restrictions on Rice which expires on June 30, 2017, should be extended. Without it, the local market will be flooded with cheaper imported rice and essentially destroy the livelihood of Filipino farmers. Although proponents of free trade argue that consumers will benefit from the reduced rice prices, in the long run the country’s food insecurity will worsen especially if, for example, the exporting countries suddenly decide to stop their exportation during times of natural calamities.
Lastly, the National Food Authority must be empowered into doing its mandate of palay procurement from farmers to ensure availability of affordable rice for the poor without having to rely on cheap imported rice.
PNFSP hopes that the President will remain sincere about protecting the local farmers and the agriculture sector to ensure a strong and stable domestic rice production, so that there would be no more need to import rice.
SHARLENE LOPEZ, executive director, Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes