Promising rice self-sufficiency
Editorial

Promising rice self-sufficiency

/ 04:35 AM February 07, 2024

President Marcos was more than happy to report last week that government efforts to provide rice farmers with high-quality seedlings and fertilizers are paying off, as production of the country’s staple hit a record high of 20 million metric tons. The 1.5-percent increase from the previous year’s output in turn led to the faster growth in the total production of the agriculture and fisheries sector of 1.2 percent from just a 0.6-percent expansion in 2022.

Mr. Marcos’ jubilation will be short-lived, however. While rice output reached the highest on record, it is still not enough to meet the country’s growing needs. In fact, it is only good enough to meet about 80 percent of the total demand of Filipinos who consume an average of 118.81 kilos of rice every year, roughly 1.5 cups a day.

As a result, the Philippines is expected to keep its unwanted title of the world’s largest rice importer in 2024, after toppling China from its perch in 2023 when the Philippines imported 3.6 million metric tons of one of the world’s most consumed grains.

Record 3.8 million metric tons

According to the “Grain: World Markets and Trade” report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released in September last year, the Philippines with its 112 million rice-eating population will likely import a record 3.8 million metric tons this year, exceeding the volumes of other major importers such as China, Indonesia, the European Union, Nigeria, and Iraq.

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This was attributed in part to the surge in local rice prices and the projected local production shortfall because of the impact of the El Niño phenomenon which means longer and more severe dry weather conditions that can severely affect agriculture output.Mr. Marcos, however, is sending off the right signals that the agriculture sector which used to be under his personal purview and is now under Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. is bent on extending the record and generating an even higher output this year and thus further trim the volume of rice imports through continued investments in the sector.

New varieties of palay

The Department of Agriculture, for example, has allocated P17 billion for more solar-powered irrigation projects to ensure constant water supply to about 180,000 hectares of farmland across the country; P1.2 billion to expand and improve small-scale irrigation projects, and another P10 billion to the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund for rice seed development, provision of farm equipment, as well as credit and extension services to rice farmers.

The Marcos administration is also committed to pouring additional resources into developing new varieties of palay that can withstand changing weather patterns—especially with El Niño already making its debilitating presence felt—as well as extreme weather disturbances such as typhoons.

“Certainly, agriculture is a low-hanging fruit for the economy where we could do more by providing the right inputs, mechanizing farm activities, adopting new technologies to raise yields and lower costs, effectively putting more money in the pockets of farmers and fisherfolk,” Laurel said.

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Manifold reasons

The manifold reasons why the Philippines has failed to produce enough rice to meet the needs of its people are well documented, from the frequency of typhoons that ruin harvests to the lack of a large river delta such as in Thailand and Vietnam.

It is indeed unacceptable that the Philippines—which ironically hosts the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, which produced the minds behind the successful agriculture sector in the region—is not improving its self-sufficiency and has even deteriorated to a 24-year low of just 77 percent in 2022, from 85 percent in 2020 and 81.5 percent in 2021.

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But there are ways to overcome these challenges.

Irrigation is one method, another is through increasing production through better inputs and farm yield. Based on USDA data, on average over the past five years from 2018-2023, the Philippines is at 4.1 tons of rice a hectare, compared to China’s 7.1 t/ha and Vietnam’s 6 t/ha.

Rice is life

It has been argued that it may be better for the Philippines to just continue importing rice and take advantage of the lower production prices in other countries. But the import caps of recent years by traditional exports such as India showed the importance of securing our own food supply thus shielding the country from the movements in the global market.

The Marcos administration is therefore on the right track with the target to achieve 97.4 percent rice self-sufficiency by the end of Mr. Marcos’ term in 2028 through the Masagana Rice Industry Development Program unveiled last year. Laurel had said that achieving this goal would mean an investment of P1.2 trillion over the next three years.

As Filipinos always say, rice is life, thus Marcos’ goal toward 97 percent sufficiency is a goal government officials, the academe, private sector, and the farmers and fisherfolk organizations can all rally behind.

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Otherwise, rice self-sufficiency will just end up being another empty and broken promise.

TAGS: Bongbong Marcos, opinion, rice prices

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