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To eat our own rice

/ 05:24 AM February 21, 2019

While on my way to a northwestern Luzon province two weeks ago, I took photographs of the four-lane concrete highway that narrowed into two, because the outer lanes on the left and on the right were being used to dry palay (rice grains). On long stretches of the highway were golden grains being raked every now and then for even drying. So preindustrial age.

I could not help thinking of the motorists who were denied the road space meant for them, but I worried more for the people, young kids even, who were doing the raking, because they could be hit by speeding or wayward vehicles.

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I could only sigh while I gazed at the paddy fields beyond, rice growing in different plots and showing varying degrees of maturity. So pleasant were they to the eyes and to the mind. Some fields were golden with ripening grain, others lush and green with promise. In good weather.

But there is a tempest of another kind that will hit the rice fields and farmers. That is, the recent passing of the rice import liberalization or rice tariffication law (signed on Feb. 14 by President Duterte). Farmers and even government employees of the National Food Authority (NFA) are protesting. They raise placards saying “Kontra Magsasaka, Kontra Mamamayan!” (Antifarmer! Antipeople!). “The beginning of the end of the rice industry in the Philippines,” one NFA manager said, because “it stripped the NFA of its regulatory and stabilization functions,” thus reducing NFA to “a mere buffer stocking agency.”

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Farmers’ groups such as Amihan, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and Bantay Bigas protested in front of the Department of Agriculture to stress that the tariffication law will not solve the chronic rice crisis, that “instead, it will just transform our country into an import-dependent, rice-consuming population.”

Too painful now to hark back to times past when the Philippines was one of the world’s biggest rice producers, a destination where countless foreigners learned the rudiments of rice production. Now, as far as rice production and supply are concerned, the Philippines is in the dustbin.

While NFA employees fear for their jobs, the rice farmers’ fears are even greater — and these are not without bases — so the search for solutions must continue. To produce and eat our own rice must be a rallying cry.

There is the Rice Industry Development Act (Rida) or House Bill No. 8512, filed by party-list Representatives Ariel B. Casilao and Antonio L. Tinio (principal authors) of Anakpawis and Alliance of Concerned Teachers, respectively, and several other coauthors.

First, Casilao paints a grim future scenario when “local rice production is totally devastated and wiped out, rice lands then converted into subdivisions… or planted with export cash crops, all due to the impact of flooding of imported rice, (then) we will just be an addition to the world population that begs for food, whose food security is a sham, and whose right to food totally inexistent.”

Solutions? First, the repeal of the rice tariffication law upon its publication, or 15 days after the President signed it.

Rida is a very detailed P495-billion, three-year development program, targeting as its main beneficiaries the poor rice farmers and poor consumers.

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And what are its core programs? Production support; focused poverty alleviation; accelerated infrastructure development; research and development extension services; rice lands protection; and strengthening of the NFA. There will be “rice development zones” or rice bowls that would serve as the centers of the core programs.

The support program includes collateral-free socialized credit, farm inputs support, provision of machineries and crop insurance. Infrastructure development includes irrigation development. Rice lands protection prohibits land reclassification, and land use and crop conversion.

While the budget appears to be huge, Casilao says it is a small price to pay, a long overdue public investment that should have been carried out in decades past “… given that the palay sector has the potential to produce P360 billion worth of produce annually. This will trigger genuine rural development that will seal off the chronic rice crisis, even solve mass unemployment in the countryside… and may even decongest the urban centers in the country.”

Rida is a long, long read (43 pages). You may find it in http://congress.gov.ph/legisdocs/basic_17/HB08512.pdf. It spells hope.

Send feedback to cerespd@gmail.com

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TAGS: Human Face, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, NFA, rice growing, Rice imports, Rice Industry Development Act, Rice production, rice tariffication, RIDA
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