Millennials, Gen Z and rice tariffs
ICYMI: While we were busy with our dates and Instagram posts on Feb. 14, the Rice Tariffication Act became law. The government’s economic managers say it can bring down rice prices and ease inflation, but farmers and other agricultural bodies are mourning the “death of the rice industry.” In the middle of all this—though we may not immediately realize it—we, millennials and Gen Z-ers, have a role to play.
In brief, Republic Act No. 11203 lifts the restriction on rice imports, allowing private traders in the country to import rice more freely. In turn, rice imports will be slapped with a tariff. The law also removes the commercial and regulatory powers of the National Food Authority (NFA) , which was previously tasked with the regulation, licensing and monitoring of rice traders.
After the law takes effect on March 5, we are expected to get an influx of imported rice, especially from our neighbors like Thailand and Vietnam whose rice prices are much lower. Even with the tariff, the prevailing prediction is that the entry of cheap rice can drive down prices by as much as P7 per kilo.
While the law sounds like a godsend for consumers, farmers’ groups fear that our local farms will not stand a chance against massive and cheap rice imports. It’s no secret that our rice industry is far from competitive in relation to our neighbors; production costs alone push our farmers to debt, compounded by low yields and environmental vulnerability. Some expect that with the flood of low-priced competition, many Filipino rice farms will not survive.
The law does provide that revenue from the tariffs will go to the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, which is intended to boost our local farmers. However, this has been met with skepticism, given the government’s record of failed promises in agriculture and officials’ past misuse of people’s funds.
On top of all these are concerns that import liberalization will greatly hurt our food security, and that deregulation will cost the jobs of about 1,000 NFA workers.
It’s a policy change with wide-reaching ripples. As a 20-something looking at it through the lens of youth and zero political experience, it’s easy to get lost and feel helpless in the sidelines. But the reality must hit us: Our farmers will experience the brunt in their livelihood. And with this, young people have a greater opportunity—and a higher calling—to contribute their skills to agriculture.
The Department of Agriculture reported that the average age of Filipino farmers is 57 years old, indicating the youth’s declining involvement in farming. This is despite the many scholarships and free tuition programs for Aggie students. Members of the academe have expressed dismay over the low number of enrollees in agriculture courses, as well as the inclination of agriculture graduates to pursue jobs abroad.
We can’t deny that the state of agriculture in the Philippines isn’t attractive to young workers and professionals. But that’s exactly why we are needed here.
If we’re not keen on farming itself, there are various areas of agriculture where young talent is valuable: agricultural research (especially as the Philippines is home to the International Rice Research Institute), agricultural engineering, development communication, agricultural economics.
Now is a time when our rice farmers may need to either upgrade their farming practices or move to a more viable crop than rice. It is then vital to get more professionals with fresh ideas involved in developing better farm input and methods, as well as in communicating and transferring these new technologies to farmers. Likewise, our farmers could benefit from the service of passionate new economists who could influence government policies with real-world data and bottom-up solutions.
Or, we can contribute proficiency in what we are already good at: technology and the internet. An award-winning study from the Philippine Rice Research Institute suggested that in the immediate term, the youth can be mobilized as “infomediaries,” to aid farmers access the wealth of information available through information and communications technology that would be useful in improving yield and reducing operational costs.
For us millennials and Gen Z-ers, “rice tariffication” may not be a sexy concept to talk about in our daily lives or post excitedly about on social media. But it signals a greater concern that we should be part of—a dire need for bright new thinkers and movers in Philippine agriculture. And that’s us, if we dare to be.
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