PH should eye farm products other than rice
In reference to the Inquirer’s April 11 editorial titled “Bill Gates and Irri,” I commend the important role of the International Rice Research Institute (Irri) in global rice research, more so now with the need for flood-tolerant and drought-resistant varieties.
However, I would like to point out some inaccuracies.
First, the Irri trained scientists in all major rice-producing countries, not just the Philippines. The Irri has trained and worked with Vietnam, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, Malaysian Agriculture Research Institute, Thai Department of Agriculture, and Indonesia Agency for Agriculture Research and Development as early as the 1970s. In fact, the Philippine Rice Research Institute, created only in 1985, was late in coming. Just because Irri is located in the Philippines does not mean the Philippines has been favored by Irri.
Second, in 1961, data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) showed that the Philippines was ranked 10th among the world’s rice-producing nations, with China, India, Japan, Bangladesh and Indonesia in the top 5. It was not the world leader by any measure. By 2013, the Philippines moved up to No. 8, with China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Vietnam occupying the top 5. The Philippines was among the four countries that moved up: Indonesia, Vietnam, Burma (Myanmar) and the Philippines.
Third, the Philippines has been a net rice importer for the last 50 years. According to FAO, in 1961-2011, the Philippines was an importer for 40 years, and a significant exporter for only four years (1979-1981 and 1987). In 2012-2015, it also imported rice. This is in part due to smaller rice areas and lower yields.
Fourth, the Philippines has less comparative advantage in rice production compared to countries drained by the world’s large rivers: India, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam. All are rice exporters in the process. Add to that the 20 typhoons that hit the country every year. Rice production cost in the Philippines is higher than in Thailand, Vietnam and India.
Food security must be anchored in income. Sadly, the Philippines has the highest poverty incidence as compared to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.
The strategic question that needs to be asked is whether we have invested in other crops (such as coconut, coffee, etc.) that could make a great difference in poverty reduction. Aquaculture may also be considered.
—ROLANDO DY, professor, University of Asia and the Pacific
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