‘Shrinking farmlands prevent rice sufficiency’

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President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, in his speech at the Francisco Bangoy International Airport in Davao City on October 11, 2018, announced that he has reiterated the Philippines’ national priorities of inclusive growth, stable and secure environment, and economic integration in the region during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Leaders' Gathering in Bali, Indonesia. KARL NORMAN ALONZO/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

President Duterte acknowledged on Friday the Philippines will not achieve sufficiency in rice supply because its farmlands are shrinking. This also justified the move to import the staple to help boost the country’s meager supply.

“The stomach comes first. So, the policy of the government is to keep the people, keep them away from hunger,” Duterte said upon arrival in Davao City from Bali, Indonesia where he attended the ASEAN Leaders’ Gathering. The Indonesian resort city also played host to the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund/World Bank.

“So, we have to import whether we like it or not and we have to plan. But frankly, I do not think that we will be rice sufficient. I don’t know in the years to come. The problem is, large tracts of land have been converted into cash crop, export [oriented manufacturing centers],” he added.

The Chief Executive earlier ordered for the “unimpeded importation of rice” and flood the market with affordable rice even as crude oil prices continue to rise in the world market. He said the decision to liberalize the importation of the staple also eliminates the National Food Authority’s power to accredit importers and determine the volume of importation. These and other related countermeasures were meant to help bring down above-target inflation that has helped erode his popularity among poor Filipinos.

Duterte also said that he wants Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol to come up with a “formula” that will balance the need for rice importation with the interests of local rice producers.

“Maybe during harvest time or a later period after that. There must be space for the local products to be bought and consumed,” Duterte said, adding he pushed for importation since the shortage on rice came up months ago.

“But would you believe it or not, it really happened and I was the first one who ordered the importation. There were those who wanted it, some among Cabinet members did not,” said Duterte. “I said, look if your inventory is that high, you make it up there. Anyway, it’s food,” he said.

Duterte on Wednesday certified the rice tarrification bill as urgent in order to facilitate the passage of the legislation as countermeasure to high inflation.

He cited the “urgent need to improve availability of rice in the country, prevent artificial rice shortage, reduce the prices of rice in the market and curtail the prevalence of corruption and cartel domination in the rice industry.”

The House of Representatives passed its version of the bill in August while a counterpart bill is pending before the Senate.

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