SENSIBLE PROPOSAL TO SOLVE RICE SHORTAGE
By Ernesto T. Solidum
Photo at right shows a lone farmer harvesting her palay crop. Note the poor stand of his palay crop which yield may olny be about 3,000 kilos or three metric tons per hectare due to non application of recomended scientific rice farming technologies.
Chief Executive Officer and columnist Peter Wallace in an article published in the Philippine daily Inquirer of November 12, 2015 called for the repudiation of government rice self sufficiency program. He suggested to rely on cheap rice imported from Vietnam and Thailand instead. Despite the Department of Agriculture target to produce 20,000,000 metric tons in 2013 and 21,000,000 metric tons in 2014, production shortfall is 8-10 percent. Hence, the need to import.
In 2010, rice importations were 2.4 million metric tons, in 2011-0.86 million metric tons, in 2012-0.5 million metric tons, and in 2014-1.3 million metric tons. Obviously, those did not include massive/unchecked smuggling by private
traders. The decade before, actual rice imports averaged 2.2 million metric tons per year. Since National Food Authority subsidizes, the price of rice (17.00/kgm) government losses is staggering-170 billion pesos over the past 10 years.
The proposal of Mr. Wallace, although meritorious, is too drastic and sweeping. It does not take into consideration that rice lands are irrigated, waterlogged or rain fed. Hence, unfit or have limited uses for high value crops.
At least 40 percent of our rice farms are covered by decrepit irrigation facilities of National Irrigation Administration , communal irrigation projects, small irrigation pumps and farm reservoirs. It appears that irrigated areas are gobbled up by authorized land conversions.
Furthermore, being fully dependent on another country for critical commodity such as rice, exposes the Philippines to undue trade restrictions and price fluctuation in the world market. It is sound policy that only a fraction of our rice needs must be imported to keep up with the needs of galloping human population and natural disasters.
Welfare analysis done by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies headed by Economist Roehlano Briones indicated that in 2013, if quantitative restrictions were eliminated in rice imports and rice imports were allowed to freely enter the Philippines, imports would have increased ten-folds bringing down the retail price of rice to 18.80 pesos per kgm from 33.08 pesos/kgm.
The cost of producing a kilogram of rice in the Philippines is 10.00 pesos while it is only 5.00 pesos/kgm in Thailand and Vietnam. While our average rice yield is 3.9 metric tons per hectare, the above stated countries have achieved 5-6 metric tons per hectare per harvest. Considering that planted and irrigated area in Thailand and Vietnam is double in size than our country and with less number of populations, it is logical that Vietnam and Thailand have surplus rice production.
In addition, there is full support by the government of these countries to local farmers in terms of farm to market roads, irrigation, seeds, fertilizers, post harvest facilities, research and development , and technology transfer.
Presently, we have 3.9 million hectares of rice land but only 40 percent is irrigated. The average yield in irrigated area is 5.0 metric tons per hectare. The average production of rain fed area is 3.0 metric tons per hectare.
Policy direction must be to develop maximum potentials of our irrigated farms targeting 6.0 metric tons per hectare. Rain fed rice farms must be converted and planted to high value crops such as rubber, palm oil, Cavendish bananas, mango, cacao and coffee geared for exports. The estimated shortfall could be 2.6 million metric tons of rice. Since high value crops are processed, industrial scale and local employment will be bolstered leading to increased purchasing power.
Probably, this is the time when the daily exodus of 6,092 Pinoys leaving for work abroad will be reversed. Waning interest in agriculture and fisheries will be stopped: crops and livestock production is bolstered and aging farmers replaced by young blood. The NFA is privatized, while DA and NIA are strengthened with more budget allocation, and the agricultural extension function is returned to the Department of Agriculture with new agriculture secretary who can successfully implement a sound, effective and productive rice self sufficiency program beginning 2016./MP