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Rice self-sufficiency amid COVID-19

04:00 AM April 03, 2020

Twelve days after Luzon was placed under enhanced community quarantine, more and more Filipinos, whether food producers or consumers, are suffering from hunger. The lockdown has been hurting both the pockets and stomach of the poor and marginalized, especially those who rely on a daily income.

While the Department of Agriculture has issued protocols exempting farmers, fishers, and workers in food processing and manufacturing from quarantine to ensure the unhampered production and distribution of food supplies, farmers from various provinces report otherwise. Farmers either cannot harvest their palay or cannot sell their harvest. Moreover, as palay farmgate prices have dropped, some farmers have been forced to sell their lands due to bankruptcy, while others have changed into cash crops. Vietnam has suspended its rice exports to ensure its people’s food security. And so we are reminded that we are also fighting a losing battle to attain food self-sufficiency and self-reliance as the country has increasingly become dependent on rice imports since our membership in the World Trade Organization 25 years ago. With the implementation of Republic Act No. 11203 or the rice liberalization law, we became the top rice importer in the world. Last year, the country imported 2.1 million metric tons from Vietnam, or 33 percent of Vietnam’s 6.37 million metric tons of total rice exports, and 65 percent of the 3.2 million metric tons of total rice imports of the country.

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The rice liberalization law has likewise limited the function of the National Food Authority (NFA) to buffer stocks, crippling the state’s power to prevent hoarding and smuggling and ensure the supply of sufficient, safe, and affordable rice for poor and marginalized Filipinos. The country’s dependence on rice importation is never an assurance of food security. Vietnam’s move should be a wake-up call for the government to take the issue of rice self-sufficiency and self-reliance seriously, to prepare for circumstances such as COVID-19 and other calamities.

We urge the government to repeal RA 11203 and enact House Bill No. 477 or the Rice Industry Development Act, which pushes for the strengthening of the NFA and a rice development program that includes socialized credit, irrigation development, postharvest facilities, and production support; and HB 239 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill, which seeks to distribute lands to the farmers for free, provide them support services and subsidies, and protect agricultural lands from land-use conversion.

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OPINION

The government should take proactive measures to ensure the country’s food security based on self-sufficiency and self-reliance, for a battle cannot be won through half-hearted methods. We cannot fight a war on an empty stomach.

ZENAIDA SORIANO,

national chair, National Federation of Peasant Women (Amihan),

[email protected]

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TAGS: consumers, COVID-19, crops, department of agriculture, lockdown, NFA
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